U.S. Navy’s Energy Policy: Sailing through a Global Market Storm

The U.S. Navy has always been on the forefront of nautical modernization but the service was forced to recognize their “old guard” stance on energy use in the last decade. In the past ten years, the Navy has relied too heavily on non-renewable means to support their assets and installations. As a result, the service was presented with a squall of challenges that threatened its energy security. The primary threat was a storm of fluctuating fuel prices and unpredictable energy supplies that battered the seafaring organization in the early 2000s, and the threat still looms today. The Navy responded to this market hazard by revising their energy policy to include more renewable resources to support their fleet. However, the Navy must navigate the rough transition from non-renewable energy resources to the uncharted waters of alternative ones. Furthermore, refitting the bulk of naval estates and assets with renewable means could capsize their budget. Funding and implementing renewable technology will require holding a steady course and applying precise policy inputs to make it over the crest of the financial tsunami that is awaiting the organization once they are clear of the market storm. Under the Great Green Fleet and net-zero programs outlined in the Navy’s updated energy policy, the service may be able to gain energy security by sailing through the global market storm and overtaking the financial tsunami that comes with replacing non-renewable resources, but the organization will not to be able to meet the expected project deadlines.

The U.S. Navy is the second largest fossil fuel consumer of all the three military branches. The Navy has always been dependent on fossil fuels to conduct their missions around the world. Oil prices since 2003 (refer to Fig. 1) have dramatically fluctuated in a volatile market causing major logistical and financial obstacles for the service (Martin and Thomas, p.3). Recognizing these challenges, the Department of the Navy has turned to other alternatives to reclaim some energy security. The figurehead of the organization’s greener movement is current Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, who has repeatedly called for drastic changes to the service’s energy policy since June 2009 (Chambers and Yativ, p. 64). The most dramatic of these changes lie within the fleet’s use of petroleum-based fuels. In 2012 the service rolled out a new concept to supply energy to their fleet. They coined the initiative, the “Green Strike Group”. The project consisted of nuclear-powered carriers, hybrid-electric-driven surface ships and biofueled aircraft as a part of an energy-efficient fleet (Chambers and Yativ, p. 64). The Green Strike Group was the first series of ships and aircrafts to operate on an algae-based biofuel mixture, and they are the considered the genesis to the eventual “Great Green Fleet” that is expected to be commissioned for service by 2016.

The Great Green Fleet is an ambitious project. Within the program, the Navy expects to supplement all of their fossil fuel consuming assets with a 50% biofuel mixture (Matsunaga). In order to meet hybrid fuel specifications, surface assets will require new power-generating equipment and hull alterations to increase fuel efficiency which can save the organization millions of dollars (Chambers and Yativ, p.72). The Navy has 3,800 aircrafts and 286 ships (Chambers and Yativ, p. 65). That means over 1900 aircraft and 143 ships must be reengineered and refitted for the hybrid (50/50) fuel blend by next year, if the service is to meet this one renewable energy goal. The Navy along with the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture has already committed $510 million dollars in federal funds for capital investments and production of biofuels to support the program (Blakeley, p. 7). This is a heavy load for the service and taxpayers to withstand while the Navy attempts to meet this singular goal and, in the court of public opinion; the costs may not outweigh the benefits. On the other hand, petroleum fluctuations from last year’s instabilities and other market forces compelled the Department of the Navy to spend an additional $500 million dollars on fossil fuels (“Great Green Fleet”). Furthermore, a few years back in 2008, global oil prices reached an all time high of $147 per barrel (Martin and Thomas, p. 3). The prices dropped to $40 dollars a barrel during the economic crisis in 2009 but skyrocketed again to $100 dollars a barrel in 2011 (Martin and Thomas, p.3). The instability of dwindling supplies and continued inconsistencies in the energy market threatens the operational readiness of the Navy and will cost the taxpayers much more in the future if projects like the Great Green Fleet were not in production today.

Fig. 1. The US Department of Defense Oil Cost by Service, and Oil Prices. “How Much Energy Does the U.S. Military Consume?-An Update”. The Daily Energy Report RSS. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

The Great Green Fleet project is not the only initiative anchoring the Navy’s updated energy policy. The service recognizes that even if the Great Green Fleet meets their biofuel transition goal by 2016, they will still be heavily dependent on non-renewable energy to operate their onshore installations. So, in response, the Navy made a change to their energy policy pertaining to onshore installations. The policy change requires all onshore bases to reach at least 50% net-zero energy consumption by 2020 (Chambers and Yativ, p.70). According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) “A net-zero energy goal for an installation is to produce as much energy on-site from renewable energy generation, or through the on-site use of renewable fuels, as it consumes in its buildings, facilities, and fleet vehicles” (Callighan et al., p.6). So far, Marine Corps Base Twenty nine palms, Marine Corps Base Miramar, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Marine Corp Air Station Yuma, Puget Sound Navy Base, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii, Geothermal facilities Cosos China Lake, Navy Base San Clemente Island, and Camp Lejeune are producing renewable energy and providing power to the surrounding electrical grid (“Fact Sheet”). However, these are only a handful of installations in the Navy’s estate that are currently producing renewable energy under the net-zero initiative (refer to Fig. 2). This is clearly another ambitious program outlined in the service’s energy policy and, just like the Great Green Fleet, this goal has financial and market challenges ahead.

Fig. 2. Department of the Navy’s Renewable Energy Project Opportunities (REPO). “ Renewable Energy Program Office.” U.S. Navy Energy, Environment and Climate Change. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

The Navy wants to reach at least 50% alternative energy across their bases by 2020. As a means to an end, the first initiative in the goal is to have each naval installation produce one Giga-Watt (GW) of renewable energy. This initiative can be viewed as an ancillary effort focused on encouraging renewable energy generation projects on military bases (Strategy for Renewable Energy, p.2). One Giga-Watt of energy per installation may not seem to be too daunting of a task for the Navy and its budget. Unfortunately, all of the Navy locations that are actively producing renewable energy are currently well short of meeting the one GW goal. Furthermore, some installations, like Guantanamo Bay, are isolated on islands or in foreign countries like the Philippines. Isolated and island installations will not meet their electrical net-zero goals because of their hard to reach locations (Callighan et al., p.2). This problem places more focus on the larger bases to produce more than their share of renewable energy to compensate for the lagging stations. According to the Navy’s shore energy sub-policy, each installation is to explore “renewable energy sources generated from solar, wind, biomass, landfill gas, ocean (including tidal, wave, current, and thermal), geothermal, municipal solid waste, new hydroelectric generation capacity achieved from increased efficiency or additions, and nuclear energy” (Hicks, p. 2). The sub-policy appears to outline a very broad range of renewable options in order to encourage the individual installations to achieve their energy goals. This vast initiative may prove to be a recipe for budgetary strains and project disasters as the smaller stations scramble to erect several renewable energy producing facilities to meet their one GW goal within the next five years.

The Navy has certainly ushered in a “new guard” energy policy with the net-zero and Great Green Fleet projects. They have made some progress towards their goal of energy security through the use of biofuels and renewable technology. However, there are financial and logistic issues that are creating challenges for the service which will prevent them from meeting their energy goals by the expected deadlines. In 2009, Admiral Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, was informed that 40% biofuel use across the fleet “is a more realistic goal [than 50% by 2020] and even that remains difficult because of the cost and logistics” (Poirier). Fortunately, The Great Green Fleet and the net-zero project are only two of five updated energy strategies added to the to the Navy’s policy. But within the policy, the Green Fleet and Net-zero projects are the most ambitious ones and are more likely to be unsuccessful because of the budgetary constraints and financial costs. Even if the Great Green Fleet makes the successful transition to biofuels, the Navy will still be partially dependant on fossil fuels and susceptible to petroleum price fluctuations and market instability; just not as much as they have been in the past. Also, the net-zero projects have encountered logistical issues that will hinder the one GW of renewable per installation goal. Still, the Navy may be able to reach the 50% renewable energy goal across their installations in the next five years if they can increase the production of their existing renewable resources. But this is going to be a strong current to swim against. The Navy must ramp up production from 0.06% total renewable energy, that was recorded in 2009, to 50% on all naval bases to reach the net-zero goal by 2020 (Callighan et al., p. 12). It is suffice to state that it will be an incredible challenge to reach 50% in renewable production within the next five years. Nonetheless, the net-zero and Great Green Fleet projects can be successfully implemented eventually but the Navy will not meet the existing program deadlines.

There has been a global market storm overhead and the Navy has reacted quickly to keep itself from capsizing in the gale. They cut their energy losses and tossed them overboard to help lighten their policy vessel for smoother sailing through the undulating white caps of market instability. But this is not the only obstacle the service must overcome to achieve their goals. A tsunami of financial hardship is looming off of the Navy’s bow and is dead-reckoned for the organization. The service must navigate their renewable energy goals over the crest of the budgetary rouge wave in order to sail to fairer winds and calmer seas that come with energy security. Even if the Navy can overcome both hazards, failed expectations are looming sub-aquatically like the ancient kraken waiting to devour the Navy’s hull at the first sign of a breach in the policy’s integrity. The Navy will not escape any of these obstacles unscathed. Their most prevalent policy threat to date is the fact that the service cannot meet the deadlines for the Great Green Fleet and net-zero programs. The financial obligations and logistical issues will prevent them from meeting their goals on time. However, they will be able to fully implement the Great Green Fleet and net-zero projects eventually. Once they do, they will achieve more energy security than they have experienced in the past decade. As the Navy travels through the tumultuous environment of uncertainty, there is a ray of sunlight beckoning and calling them towards non-renewable energy independence. The service has become entranced by its siren song. The light is a thin beacon that penetrates through the storm clouds and can be seen over the horizon. As the Navy continues underway towards it, they will find that the clouds of uncertainty will clear, the skies will open up, and their energy goals will be met in the placid waters of renewable resources.

Works Cited

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Callaghan, Michael, Kate Anderson, Sam Booth, Jessica Katz, and Tim Tetreault. “Lessons Learned from Net Zero Energy Assessments and Renewable Energy Projects at Military Installations.” National Renewable Energy Lab. U.S. Department of Energy,, 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nrel.gov/docs/.../51598.pdf>.

Chambers, Aliana, and Steve Yativ. “THE GREAT GREEN FLEET The U.S. Navy and Fossil-Fuel Alternatives.” Naval War College Review 64.3 (2011): 61–77. US Navy War College. Naval War College Review. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <https://www.usnwc.edu>.

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Martin, Thomas, and Weston Gray. “Hull, Mechanical, & Electrical (HM&E) Roadmap: Revolutionizing Naval Warfare and Achieving Energy Security.” Herren Associates, Inc. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA557304>.

Matsunaga, Mark. “Navy.mil Home Page.” Navy Looks to Biofuels to Sail the Great Green Fleet in 2016. Department of the Navy, 3 July 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=82044>.

Poirier, Louise. “Enabling the Navy’s Great Green Fleet.” FUEL: The Global Business of Fuels. Hart Energy, 10 Apr. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.hartfuel.com/2011_03/Enabling-the-Navs-Great-Green-Fleet.php>.

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