Armies get smart on energy
Energy costs are a significant drain on defence budgets. This could impact on the resources available for Allies to acquire and maintain defence capabilities as well as limit their capacity to undertake military operations. Reducing the energy footprint of operations is a priority. NATO and individual Allies are working on alternative energy sources and developing multinational ‘smart energy’ projects.
Solar cells that the Royal Dutch Army installed in October 2012 in Mazar-e-Sharif. A field of 480 m² of these solar cells is currently producing 200 kWh per day. The return on investment (ROI) was 9 months. (Photo kindly provided by the Royal Dutch Army)
"All in all, in financial as well as security terms, our fuel dependency creates a ‘lose-lose’ situation. The more one looks at this dilemma, the more one understands why Alexander the Great was so obsessed with logistics. He once said that if his campaign were to fail, the first people he would slay would be his logisticians,” says Ambassador Gábor Iklódy, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.
A growing dependence on oil and gas, the progressive exhaustion of fossil fuels, constant increases in the price of raw materials, threats to the security of energy supplies and concerns about the consequences of climate change make energy security a major issue.
According to Pike Research, the US Department of Defence alone spends approximately US$20 billion per year on energy: US$15 billion on fuels and US$5 billion on facilities and infrastructure.
Quite apart from cost, the energy dependence of the armed forces has an impact on operational effectiveness. Alliance operations involve an increasingly complex and costly logistical organisation. Transporting large quantities of fuel also creates risks to the safety of the soldiers.
Environmental concerns are another important factor. The Allies need to be mindful of the environmental consequences of military activities and minimise the logistical footprint of operations.
Alternatives to fossil fuels
A number of individual Allies are exploring ways to reduce the dependency of the Alliance's armed forces on fossil fuels.
"To reduce their dependency on fossil sources, mainly oil, the Italian Defence Forces, in particular the Navy, have decided to finance a project to certify the use of biofuel for the naval sector which is compatible with current equipment," says Commander Pasquale Tripodi, Head of Propulsion Plants Office, Italian Navy General Staff.
The Italian Navy is currently testing new-generation biofuels made from non-food biomass such as algae, agricultural residues and general wastes. The product will be tested by propelling a warship on biofuel this year. It is designed to be compatible with existing NATO naval fuel to avoid costly work to modify equipment and systems. Ultimately, the objective is to develop a single fuel for use by all the armed forces.
Another initiative, focused on fuel for the aviation sector, is being carried out by the National Research Council of Canada. A major success was achieved in October 2012 with the world’s first flight by a civilian jet powered 100 per cent by pure undiluted biofuel.
"This historic flight represents a breakthrough for the renewable fuels industry,” says Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Carter of the Canadian forces. “It symbolises an important threshold, not just for aerospace, but also in the development of sustainable sources of renewable energy."
Reducing energy use in military camps
There is also considerable scope for improving the energy efficiency of deployed forces. Base camps provide a prime example. Setting up and running a military camp is a complex and costly enterprise, representing a major challenge in terms of the energy produced and consumed.
Surprisingly, recent measurements of a few selected camps in Afghanistan suggest that about 70 per cent of the fuel consumed is used for the cooling or heating of tents and shower water. Tents are poorly insulated and cooled by using inefficient air conditioners and generators, which are often left working throughout the day, irrespective of actual demand.
Experiments have shown that significant energy savings can be made by using new materials for tent insulation and sun screens; by centralising and better managing air conditioning and heating; and by changing the behaviour of soldiers. Fossil fuel dependence can be reduced by investing in renewable energies such as solar power and waste-to-energy systems.
Smart Energy Team
NATO is seeking to raise awareness of the energy challenge and identify best practices among national projects for the smart use of energy through the Smart Energy Team (SENT).
"In the context of its Smart Energy Team, NATO has begun to explore more efficient energy solutions for cooling and heating tents, including adjustable load generators, heat pumps, floor heating and materials for insulation and for storing generated energy and solar energy," says Michael Ruhle, Head of the Energy Security Section in NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division.
Set up after the Chicago Summit in May 2012 and financed through the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, SENT is jointly directed by the Lithuania-based NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence and by the Joint Environment Department of the Swedish Armed Forces. It is made up of experts from eight nations, including six Allies (Canada, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States) and two partners (Australia and Sweden).
Ultimately, the purpose of SENT is to recommend and initiate multinational projects under NATO's Smart Defence initiative.
Advanced energy generation and saving technologies were presented at the Smart Energy camp set up at the military logistics exercise, “Capable Logistician 2013” that took place in Slovakia in June 2013.
The British brought an atmospheric water generator, an intelligent power storage and management system and a tent that was lined with insulation material. The Dutch provided photovoltaic solar panels and light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, while the Germans brought a prototype of a hydrogen fuel cell that produces electricity and could in future replace diesel generators.
"The aim of the camp was to promote awareness, demonstrate smart energy solutions and test the interoperability of systems and equipment," said Dr Susanne Michaelis, NATO’s Action Officer for Smart Energy.