According to the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), energy used by the US Department of Defense fell to its lowest recorded level since fiscal year 1975 (FY 1975). DoD energy use fell to .75 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) in FY 2013, the lowest levels on record. Every year, the majority of this energy is operational energy– the energy required for “transporting, training and sustaining personnel and weapons for specific military operations.” Why is this important and what are its potential implications?
In terms of scale, the DoD is the federal government’s single largest consumer of energy, accounting for 78% of all energy usage. Roughly 70% of this total is geared toward operational energy, with the Air Force accounting for the largest portion mostly due to jet fuel expenditures. In consuming this energy, the DoD relies almost exclusively on a single source of fuel- petroleum.
This poses a unique problem for all branches of the US military. A basic knowledge of economics and energy security will tell you that reliance on a single source of energy is dangerous. This highlights vulnerabilities to supply disruption in global markets and other exogenous shocks to the oil market, which we are undoubtedly witnessing today. Further, reliance on petroleum creates the need for a constant supply, one that frequently must be transported to and from hazardous regions. These convoys in turn are susceptible to attacks. Indeed, between 2003 and 2007 more than 3, 000 casualties of uniformed soldiers reported were associated with fuel logistics.
In response to these challenges, the DoD has made considerable strides in reducing its energy consumption. Since 2011, the DoD has been responsible for publishing annual reports on operational energy use along with strategies to reduce consumption. Emphasis is placed on investments in deploying and/or generating energy in military base locations rather than transporting it. The benefits of initiatives like this are twofold: they can result in more efficient military operations and decrease the number of casualties associated with fuel logistics. The branches are also investing into alternative fuel sources like biofuels and microgrid technology. As of 2013, the DoD has reduced petroleum consumption by 27% since the FY 2005 baseline was established.
It is imperative that the DoD continues to make strides in reducing its dependence on/consumption of petroleum. Its potential benefits far outweigh the costs, and US emphasis on energy security as a vital foreign policy tool is gaining momentum. The Obama Administration made note of this in its newest National Security Strategy, released last week. Reducing DoD dependence on petroleum and expanding into alternative energy sources will not only promote efficiency, it will save lives, and there is arguably no better barometer for success than that.