Navy Secretary Mabus on Stump for Clean Energy
Navy leaders again reaffirmed their belief that the service can create a viable renewable energy market in the United States. They insist that they plan to support greater investments in green energy, as the Navy’s dependence on fossil fuels presents a vulnerability.
The Navy's goal is to bring biofuels and other sustainable-energy technologies to the mass market, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Oct. 13 during an address to the Naval Energy Forum in Washington, D.C.
“The reason we’re doing this is to become better war fighters,” Mabus said. “There’s lots of ancillary things that come from that – more jobs, better environmental stewardship – but those are all side effects.”
Mabus ran down a litany of programs that by 2020 should render the Navy half as dependent on fossil fuels. “The technology is there, what’s missing is the market,” Mabus said. “We are the market. If the Navy comes, they will build it.”
Mabus reiterated what he has said in many prior speeches: The Navy sees energy as a security vulnerability. Energy resources have, for centuries been a source of conflict, he said, and that is as true today as when the Japanese began their march to capture oil reserves in the Pacific before World War II.
“We buy too much fuel from potentially or actually volatile places on earth,” Mabus said. “Even if we could get all the oil we need from within our borders, it’s still a global commodity.” A $1 price hike for a barrel of oil costs the Navy $31 million, Mabus said. When Libya descended into civil war and halted production, the $30 spike in per-barrel oil prices resulted in a $1 billion increase in fuel cost for the Navy, he said. “We can’t afford these sorts of price shocks.”
Fuel conservation also translates to lives saved in combat zones, where fuel and water represent the bulk of imports. For every 50 convoys of fuel, a marine is killed or wounded in Afghanistan, a ratio that could be dramatically reduced if troops and machines consumed energy more efficiently, he said.
Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, said the Navy is making “tangible progress” toward reducing its consumption of oil from the current level of 80,000 barrels per day.
“We have lost our sense of judiciousness,” said Greenert also in a speech at the naval energy forum. “We need judiciousness in everything we do. We are making progress but we need to be deliberate and disciplined and keep moving forward.”
Each Navy ship is now required to closely monitor its fuel use while under way and at port, Greenert said. The planned use of biofuel mixes to power aircraft is aimed at increasing the fuel efficiency of engines by 10 to 15 percent, he said. Fuel savings also are being achieved by replacing training flying hours with computerized simulations.
Next year, the Navy will deploy a “Green Strike Group” consisting of nuclear and hybrid-drive ships that use electric power for cruising at lower speeds, said Admiral John C. Harvey Jr., commander of Fleet Forces Command. The aircraft will all be powered by a mix of conventional and biofuels.
The Navy says it will need 8 million barrels of biofuels per year after 2020. As of two weeks ago, every aircraft the Navy flies has been successfully tested on biofuel mixes.
A request for information issued in August garnered more than 100 responses from industry. The parameters set were that fuels must be compatible with existing engines, its production could not take farmland out of food production, and it has to be competitively priced.
A partnership formed in April between the Navy, Energy and Agricultural departments is working toward establishing a biofuels industry in the U.S. But that program could be delayed after an initial $170 million in appropriations to the Navy budget for biofuel production was rejected by the House Armed Services Committee last month.
Greenert could not say how the delay would affect introduction of biofuels to ships and aircraft.
For now, savings through conservation and alternative energy are being found on the battlefield. Marines have cut $50 million in fuel costs per year so far at bases in Afghanistan by fielding alternate fuel sources like solar and wind, Mabus said.
A SEAL team will soon be fielded without the need for resupply. It will produce all the water and energy it uses with mobile purification devices, super-efficient power generators and renewable sources, Mabus said.
In the end, a culture shift must occur throughout the Navy towards energy conservation. As Harvey put it, “small steps by a million people gives you a million small steps.”
Sailors and officers are receiving constant reminders to conserve energy as a tenet of their basic training. “We are making energy just as important as every chambered round,” said Rear Adm. Philip Cullom, director of Navy Task Force Energy.