Clean tech boosters looking to military for leg up

Jan 28, 2013

When you think of the clean energy economy, military barracks and mortar launchers probably aren’t the first things that come to mind.

But local clean energy boosters say the use of solar panels and biodiesel by the Department of Defense could be the key to getting more of these technologies off the ground.

Two years ago, the DOD created a new office, with a goal of reducing energy use by the U.S. military.

Sharon Burke is the Assistant Secretary in charge of that mission. She spoke at a policy conference of the Washington Clean Tech Alliance in Seattle.

Among the innovations she showed was a slide of a mortar pit in Afghanistan, powered by solar panels.

“So, this is the kind of thing where this technology has a specific end use," Burke said pointing to the picture.  "It’s not a lot of power, but it’s all they need. And it makes a difference.”

She says harnessing the power of the sun meant the infantry didn’t need helicopter deliveries of liquid fuel to re-supply their backup generator.

Tom Ranken, the President and CEO of the industry group that invited her to speak, says the military is a leader and a driver for helping create clean energy jobs.

“It’s a huge wallet and a huge checkbook and they have huge needs based on security and the ability to operate their forces overseas and provide the energy to do it,” Ranken said.

Washington’s Clean Tech alliance has hundreds of members, from big companies like Boeing to smaller startups specializing in everything from solar and wind power to the smart grid.