But nothing is simple in the government, Bollinger adds. "We went through a long, laborious process." Then, in January, the Army announced that it planned to lease 4,000 "neighborhood electric vehicles"—the largest order of its kind—to use for passenger transport, security patrols, and maintenance and delivery services at various bases around the country. These street-legal vehicles, which are also being developed for civilian use, look like futuristic golf carts, and they reach top speeds of about 25 miles per hour. In their downtime, they can be plugged in at recharging stations; each charge can last 30 miles. The plan is for the Army to take delivery of the 4,000 over a three-year period, with the first six vehicles recently supplied by a division of the Chrysler Corp. In the future, the Army plans to develop battlefield hybrid-electric "manned ground vehicles." Such innovations, say officials, will cut the Army's dependence on fossil fuels as well as the number of refueling convoys in combat.
On another front, officials have rewritten building design standards, modeling them on stores like Wal-Mart, to make better use of natural light. "It's an easy one, but we weren't doing it because skylights leaked 30 years ago," says Bollinger. Today, they support smart wiring, so that as the sun rises and sets or storms roll in and out, lights dim and brighten. The Army also has projects in geothermal energy in Hawthorne, Nev., drilling wells to access 300-degree water that creates steam to generate electricity and power installations. The goal is to have enough energy left over to provide power to the surrounding community.
Going solar. At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the Air Force finished installing more than 70,000 solar panels on 140 acres of unused land last December to create a vast renewable energy source. The solar panels, called "trackers," follow the movement of the sun and are connected to the base electrical grid, saving the military roughly $83,000 on its monthly electric bill. The Air Force is also investigating green power, including ice storage systems that freeze water at night and then melt it to cool buildings throughout the day "at a much more efficient rate,"according to Billings.
Officials point out that these measures are even more vital during times of war, when fuel consumption patterns change dramatically and costs rise. Even during peacetime, U.S. Army installations are the biggest consumers of fuel. But during war, fuel consumption within the Army increases markedly, and the price of a $2 tank of gas can soar to $25, once the cost of delivery is factored in. There is the fuel it takes to deliver the fuel, for example, and the wear and tear on the convoys that haul it around. What's more, generators' fuel consumption, which normally accounts for 2 or 3 percent of the Army's overall energy use, skyrockets to 22 percent during wartime.
To cut down on the generators' heavy workload, the Army recently hit on a simple energy saver. In the past several months, it began covering its tents in Iraq and Afghanistan with a 2-inch layer of hard foam. The fuel-saving results have been remarkable. When the Army did a test on two identical tents in sweltering Fort Irwin, Calif., the interior of a tent that wasn't foamed—and this is the case with the vast majority of tents in Iraq and Afghanistan, where temperatures often soar above 110 degrees—reached a temperature of 125 degrees inside, while the insulated tent remained 85 degrees. "It just gives you a very good sense of what this can do," says Bollinger. And more important, what it means is that the fuel required to power the generators can decrease, "because you don't need as many AC units or heaters to be running to get the tent to a comfortable temperature."
And that has far greater security implications, say senior military officials. The Army did some math and learned that a 1 percent reduction in its fuel consumption in war zones results in 6,444 fewer soldiers in convoys. And fewer convoys, officials add, mean fewer casualties. "That's all part of the energy equation. You can't be a strong expeditionary force if you're tied to a giant fuel umbilical cord," says Bollinger. "And that's what we're trying to do—cut the cord."