By Thomas S. Mullikin, attorney, military officer and chairman of Global Eco Adventures
During the height of the Iraq War, specifically the post-invasion conflict against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the resupply convoys of the United States and its allies were regularly subjected to every form of enemy hazard from sniper shootings to larger complex ambushes and the ever-present IED attacks.
From the beginning of the post-invasion phase in 2003 through the “surge” against AQI in 2007, the enemy viewed the convoys as soft targets. To hit a convoy–especially a fuel convoy–usually meant lots of burning petroleum, ammunition cooking-off and roiling black smoke that could be seen for miles. Additionally, there were the untold monetary losses in terms of destroyed equipment and supplies, a temporary slowing (at least as perceived by AQI) of the American effort, and there was always the potential for substantial American casualties that were broadcast globally.
Convoys were and are soft targets in modern warfare, far less risky than attacking a company of infantry soldiers, and almost always perceived by the enemy as being more profitable for his fear-instilling propaganda machine. For the forces operating in the region, the convoys were critical and often the only means of resupplying the many forward operating bases (FOBs) constructed near the larger cities and the much smaller outposts in the backcountry. Fuel has and always will be required for electrical power generators, vehicles and aircraft.
The conflict in Afghanistan is no different. Supply convoys along the main supply routes (MSRs) are a necessity. However, the targets themselves–especially the fuel-delivery convoys–can be reduced (though not eliminated) in scope and the threat thus mitigated. As with the many innovations in the American defense sector over the course of history, these innovations certainly benefit the civilian sector as well.
The findings of a U.S. Army study published in 2010–Sustain the Mission Project: Casualty Factors for Fuel and Water Resupply Convoys–stated “that casualty impacts (and other operational impacts) related to using alternative energy and water technologies to sustain Army missions should be evaluated in Army combat and combat support models over a wide range of theaters and scenarios to better reflect the complex conditions and actions at the tactical and theater levels.”
The report added, “Army analysis agencies should evaluate the potential impacts, such as casualties, of different energy technologies in the battle space to include resupply convoys.”
According to the Center for Army Lessons Learned, “[resupply casualties] have historically accounted for about 10-12% of total Army casualties–the majority related to fuel and water transport.” Clearly a smaller fuel footprint in terms of resupply means fewer and smaller (more easily physically defendable) convoys on the MSRs.
Petroleum energy will continue to be a necessity, but it does not have to be the primary and only means of power as the military has come to appreciate in recent years. For instance, technological advances in solar are changing the fuel dynamics for America overseas as well as here at home. Such technologies developed to save our soldiers’ lives while protecting our environment are certain to boost our economy too. As tragic as the global war on terrorism has been in terms of loss of life and the tremendous economic costs of waging the war, we can use lessons–and technologies–learned to create greater energy and economic security.
New energy sources like solar which were previously considered not yet technologically sound, particularly in terms of energy storage–efficiency and cost–have become the preferred option, both privately and publicly, based on their ability to compete in the energy marketplace.
Take for example NV ENERGY, which recently announced it has contracted for more than 1 GW of new solar energy and 100 MW of battery energy capacity. Of note, one of the winning bidders for that battery project, Cypress Creek Renewables, has its flagship office in one of the most prominent high-tech research and development parks, Research Triangle Park, just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Upon approval by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, NV Energy’s current portfolio of geothermal, solar, hydro, wind and biomass projects will bring the company’s total renewable energy portfolio to more than 3.2 GW in Nevada. If approved, it will be the largest clean energy investment in Nevada.
Solar energy will not fully replace fossil fuels in the short run, but it is certain to increase in the years ahead as American leaders begin to appreciate the limitless possibilities of this vast, scalable, clean and truly affordable and storable energy resource.
In fact, according to a 2018 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on renewable power generation costs in 2017, the global weighted average of utility-scale solar PV fell 73% between 2010 and 2017, to $0.10/kWh. Increasingly, solar technology is competing head-to-head with conventional power sources.
In the Southeast, utilities have emerged as partners to the energy transition and inclusion of solar in their portfolios. The implementation of the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) has facilitated this increase in the energy markets of a number of states.
With newly advanced solar and battery technologies which today capture and efficiently store solar power (that’s a separate and utterly remarkable story in itself), energy companies are enabling individuals, businesses, and now likely the entire state of Nevada to produce real, marketable, working energy. And they are able to do so at or below market costs.
This brings thousands of new, good paying jobs–in an industry that employs veterans at a 26% greater rate than the broader U.S. workforce–with the construction of new solar farms were the rest of the nation to go the way of Nevada.
The previously mentioned IRENA report also highlights the fact that technological advancements in solar storage capabilities have ensured energy reliability. Unlike traditional generators, PV and energy storage systems can operate in grid-connected mode and provide ongoing value. Because these systems are used regularly, it is likely they will be operational when called upon in an emergency–think post-hurricane. Additionally, PV and battery energy storage could provide dispatchable power for an extended period without the need for additional fuel supplies.
Solar power is now an option for everyone in every sector, providing electricity and other fuel options to millions. And it will potentially and measurably save American lives overseas, which brings me back to my first and perhaps most salient point.
Strategically speaking, solar energy is now fully capable of reducing (though perhaps not yet eliminating) our reliance on foreign sources of fuel. That in itself will save lives. No longer would we have to deploy and pre-position the vast numbers of troops America has traditionally had to in order to defend our access to gas and oil overseas.
And if we parse it down to the tactical level, fewer and smaller convoys transporting less fuel on the miles of MSRs crisscrossing Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will always mean fewer soldiers tasked with defending them.
Fewer soldiers potentially means more of our precious sons and daughters lives saved. Together these protections of American lives will also result in greater domestic energy and economic security.