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US Army turns to microgrids, EVs to hit net zero by 2050

A tank roars across a desert.
Enlarge / A US Bradley Fighting Vehicle drives during a joint military exercise between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, in the countryside of Deir Ezzor in northeastern Syria on December 7, 2021. The US Army is currently testing a version of the Bradley with a hybrid-electric drivetrain.

The US Army released its climate change strategy this week, and it’s a lengthy document that shows how the largest and oldest branch of the military will not only prepare for climate change but will also zero out emissions from most of its operations and activities.

“We have a unique opportunity to improve our defense capabilities and become a more efficient force, while securing a better future,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in an introduction to the report. “The Army is on track to build on the progress we’ve achieved to date and reach every aspect of the Army enterprise.”

The Army says that the goal isn’t just to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions—though that’s a key outcome—but also to make the force more resilient by “adapting infrastructure and natural environments to climate change risks.”

The strategy takes a multipronged approach toward addressing the climate threat, including overhauling the Army’s installations and its acquisitions and logistics practices.

On just the facilities side, the Army buys more than $740 million of electricity every year, producing over 4.1 million metric tons of carbon pollution. To bring those numbers down while also improving its ability to operate when the grid goes down, the Army says it will install microgrids at each of its more than 130 installations by 2035. Already, 25 microgrids are “scoped and planned” through 2024.

Microgrids are usually connected to the wider grid, though they can be easily cut off without losing power, allowing operations to continue if the connection is severed or the grid goes down. Currently, the Army is looking into solar, wind, and batteries to power microgrids.

On bases, myriad vehicles support day-to-day operations, and the new plan calls for the nontactical vehicle fleet to be all-electric by 2035. That includes everything from light trucks like Chevrolet Tahoes and Ford F-150s to massive prime movers like the “Dragon Wagon” and the HEMTT. Light-duty vehicles like the Tahoe are scheduled to be all-electric by 2027.

Tactical vehicles, though, will take a bit longer. The Army hopes to hybridize them by 2035 before moving to all-electric in 2050. The plan doesn’t spell out what it considers to be tactical vehicles, though the designation likely includes things like Humvees and MRAPs.

Currently, there’s no concrete plan for all-electric tanks and self-propelled artillery. “We are going to push hard to get there, but we’re going to be methodical and deliberate as we do to make sure that as we implement these changes, rather than impeding the mission effectiveness of these systems, we’re actually enhancing it,” Paul Farnan, the assistant Army secretary for installations, energy and environment, told Stars & Stripes. “The technology development and maturation of this technology is still happening. If we look back ten years ago, and where EVs were and where we are today, I don’t think anyone sitting in 2010 would have imagined where we’re going with EVs today.”

The Army’s plan also goes beyond buildings and hardware, requiring it to “proactively train its people and prepare a force that is ready to operate in a climate-altered world,” the document says. The Army has rolled out a “Climate 101” course to introduce fundamentals of climate science to base architects and garrison commanders, and it says it will update all of its training modules, exercises, and simulations to consider the impacts of climate change by 2028. The goal is to prepare the entire force for whatever conditions climate change presents, from severe weather to a thawing Arctic.

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