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The Department of Defense Wants to Double Down on Renewables

As clean energy and environmental protection look set to suffer under Trump’s budget cuts, at least the military will do its bit to reduce emissions.
Barack Obama takes a tour of solar power facilities at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.

When you think of cutting-edge military technology, you probably picture vehicles, weapons, communications—perhaps even killer robots. But the Department of Defense would like renewable energy to be part of that list.

The military is no stranger to innovation, recently even taking a page out of Silicon Valley’s book. And over the past 10 years it’s been gradually increasing its adoption of renewable power, after it vowed to produce or procure 25 percent of all of its energy from clean sources.

Now Reuters reports that senior military officials intend to “forge ahead under the new administration with a decade-long effort to convert its fuel-hungry operations to renewable power.” That might be easier than ever, given President Trump’s recent promise to commit an extra $54 billion to defense spending.

At first blush, it also seemingly flies in the face of what the president likely thinks the money should be spent on to improve national security.

But military officials argue to Reuters that this shift to renewables isn’t really motivated by a desire to save the planet, but to make systems more efficient, safe, and robust. For instance, an Army facility running on renewables would be immune to grid attacks; a hybrid tank doesn’t need to stop to refuel as often; and in war zones a solar panel can’t explode like a tank of gas.

The news comes, of course, at a time when other federal organizations face funding cuts as a direct result of Trump’s desire to boost military spending. Both ARPA-E, which was set up to fund research into audacious new energy technologies, and the Environmental Protection Agency are bracing for massive upheaval—or potentially even closure.

It’s unlikely that the DoD’s investment will give rise to new clean energy technologies of the sort that might be kick-started by ARPA-E. But some military innovations do spill out into the public domain, and the scale of its investment will go some way to further pushing down the cost of renewables.

So at least a small slice of the funding cut from federal departments dedicated to saving the planet will be channeled toward renewables—whether it was the president’s intention or not.

(Read more: Reuters, “The Pentagon’s Innovation Experiment,” “The EPA Is Bracing for Big Change,” “Will ARPA-E Survive Trump’s Looming Budget Cuts?”)

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