When most people think about renewable energy, the first thing that comes to mind is environmentalism. It’s true that renewable electricity generators like wind and solar produce no toxic emissions or water contamination, but that’s just one factor that has spurred growth in the renewable sector.
For folks who know a little more about the subject, the next thing to come up might be economics. Since our fossil fuel resources are finite, it’s only logical that traditional power prices will rise in conjunction with fuel scarcity. Therefore, it makes economic sense to invest in renewable generation that requires no traditional fuel input.
These are both great reasons for us to build out our clean power infrastructure, but there’s one more advantage to renewable generation that’s not often discussed: National Security. Electricity has become a crucial element in just about everything we do. It’s essential for communication, food storage, healthcare, and a whole lot more. Without a steady supply of electricity, things could devolve very quickly into chaos. That’s why it’s imperative to have a dependable electricity system, and renewables can help us achieve that.
The fuel for renewables is wind, sunshine, or any other type of energy that’s already present here on Earth. Since the fuel already exists where it’s needed, there’s no need to spend any time or resources collecting or transporting it. There’s also less possibility of an interruption in the supply chain. Take natural gas for instance. Before use in a power plant, that natural gas has to be extracted and shipped to its final destination. If there was a disruption at any point in that supply chain (like a problem with the extraction machinery, or a leak in the transport phase), it could mean that the power plant isn’t able to operate as usual.
In addition to vulnerable supply chains, traditional power generators are also vulnerable to extreme weather or sinister actions. Because the generators are enormous and vital to the power system, taking one offline could mean big problems for the grid. One risk is that the transmission infrastructure around the power plant could be destroyed in an earthquake or other catastrophic events. There’s also a very real risk of terrorists targeting our power supply to cause mass chaos. Because renewable assets tend to be smaller and more widely distributed, the system becomes stronger and more difficult to disrupt.
Another potential risk to our power grid is hacking. Because most of the control systems for power plants were designed before cyber-security became a focal point, they can be vulnerable to malicious actors hacking in and taking control. Renewable energy is less susceptible to these kinds of attacks because the technology is much newer and harder to manipulate. Another benefit is the decentralized nature of renewables, as described in the previous paragraph.
To further illustrate the ways in which renewable energy improves National Security, let’s take the US Department of Defense as an example. The DOD is the single largest user of energy on the planet. That energy is crucial to the purpose of the DOD, which is outlined in their mission statement: “…to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” The DOD turned to renewables early on, due to their flexible and resilient nature. For many military applications, bases are set up in remote or hostile locations where a traditional power supply is not available. Therefore all electricity has to be produced by portable generators, which require a continuous supply of combustible fuel. According to a DOD study in Afghanistan in 2007, 1 in 24 of these fuel convoys resulted in an American casualty. When renewable generators are used in place of traditional ones, the frequency of such fuel convoys can be reduced. As put by Michael McGhee, the Executive Director of U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives, “What we are looking at when we see renewables is a self-resupplying power source.” In this way, the deployment of renewable energy makes our troops safer in combat zones.
While renewable energy is certainly helping to increase our national security, there is still much work to be done to fortify our electricity system. In addition to the increased deployment of renewable energy technologies, we also need to address our aging grid infrastructure. By investing in both of these things, we could bolster our energy security and help to protect ourselves from chaotic power outages.