TODAY’S STUDY: New Energy And National Security
Advanced Energy And U.S. National Security
June 2017 (CNA Military Advisory Board)
What Is Advanced Energy?
For our discussion, advanced energy is the suite of technologies and systems that can lead to a more globally accessible, clean, and safe energy supply. These technologies include sources–such as nuclear, hydro, renewable, or alternative power–and the associated technologies and systems that distribute, store, and manage energy. They also comprise systems that make existing energy uses more efficient. Just as the 20th century was dominated by energy production derived from oil, coal, and natural gas, we expect the 21st century to have both greater energy efficiency from traditional sources and a greater array of new sources.
As senior military officers, we view national security broadly, factoring in economic strength, diplomatic prowess, and military capability. Fundamental to this equation is access to affordable and reliable energy. This study examines how advanced energy systems will impact the energy landscape and how these impacts will influence U.S. national security.
Over the coming decades, the global energy landscape will change dramatically. As the world grows from 7.4 billion people in 2016 to more than 9 billion by midcentury, changing demographics are expected to result in a 30-plus percent increase in global demand for energy . Energy demand from demographic shifts in China and fast-growing, emerging economies in India and across Africa will overtake customary centers of demand.
Globally, technological change is underway in both the fossil fuel and advanced energy sectors. On the supply side, fracking and other recovery techniques are making fossil fuels more accessible, while advanced energy creates means for nations worldwide to produce power locally, using a wide variety of available energy sources and reduce dependency on imports. Technological advances mean that overall increases in energy demand will no longer be met by fossil fuels alone. At the same time, efficiency, biofuels, and other advanced energy improvements, as well as a global move toward electric vehicles, will cause demand for oil to begin to decline.
This changing energy posture – including new centers of demand and supply, new energy sources, and new methods of storage and use – will have an impact on global economics and global politics. Trade relationships and geopolitical dependencies molded by energy needs will be reshaped, resulting in new allies and adversaries alike. Some nations will prosper in this transition; others will falter. The consequences will have direct effects on U.S. national security.
This study brought together more than a dozen retired Admirals and Generals to examine the national security consequences of this energy transition over the next few decades. The U.S. has a choice: Will we be bystanders in the transformation, or do we participate and steer the process to our economic and security advantage?
A changing global energy landscape will have economic, diplomatic, and military effects, impacting the national security of the U.S. and its allies. Over the coming decades, rising energy demand, primarily from the world’s emerging economies, will reshape the global energy mix, redefine trade relationships, and impact the geopolitics of energy among nations. China, India, and Africa will grow to become the new global energy demand centers in a technologically changing energy landscape.
Russia and members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)—notably Iran—are already positioning themselves to meet growing demand for fossil fuel in India and China. China is expanding its territorial claims in energy-rich areas and using energy investments in Africa to gain a stronger foothold. These mounting dependencies and an increasing global footprint present national security challenges for the U.S. At the same time, rising energy demand offers the U.S. and our allies new opportunities to build relationships in growing and emerging energy markets.
A historic global transition toward advanced energy is accelerating and will give rise to economic challenges–and opportunities– for the U.S., our allies, and our adversaries. The transition to advanced energy is driven by new technologies and approaches that will change how the world generates, stores, manages, and uses energy. As the transition unfolds, the energy mix and energy flows will depart from today’s trends. Future energy supplies will be more distributed than the geographically concentrated oil, coal, and natural gas posture in today’s portfolio. China, Russia, Japan, the E.U., Middle Eastern nations, and others have implemented national strategies to seize opportunities in the new energy landscape. The U.S. has not taken a similar strategic approach. Because the transition is dependent on technology and the pace of technological change, its specific outcomes are difficult to know with certainty.
Advanced energy systems will temper rising global demand for oil, impacting global diplomacy and influence, with direct national security implications for the U.S. Experts predict that consumption of all energy sources will increase through mid-century, given demographic changes and economic growth in the developing world. But advanced energy technologies–which bring efficiency as well as diversity of supply–will likely temper rising fossil fuel consumption and increase geopolitical options. For example, Europe’s adoption of advanced energy is already decreasing its overall demand for imported fossil fuels and specifically reducing its dependence on Russian oil and natural gas.
Electric vehicle development has the potential for strong impact in the U.S., where light-duty vehicles account for more than 60 percent of total oil consumption . Acceleration of this advanced energy technology could reduce significantly or eliminate much of the oil demand in the advanced economies in just one or two decades. This will allow some oil-importing nations, like the U.S. and those of the E.U., to loosen energy tethers and gain diplomatic leverage.
However, electric vehicles will have less impact on oil demand in China, India, and other areas of the world that use proportionally less oil for cars and more for trucking, industry, agriculture, and petrochemicals. There, growing economies will likely result in stronger tethers to oil-exporting nations.
The transition to advanced energy can provide the U.S. military with additional options to improve mission effectiveness, reliability, and cost mitigation. The military’s philosophy on employing advanced energy technologies is simple: Use them when they improve the effectiveness or resiliency of military operations. Advanced energy systems can accomplish this for our warfighters in forward operations and installations by lowering vulnerable logistical requirements, extending missions by reducing the need for fuel resupply, and lowering the number of combat forces needed to protect fuel supplies.
DOD’s next-generation technologies, platforms, and weapons systems will be much more dependent on reliable high-capacity electrical systems that will be enabled by components of advanced energy systems.
DOD installations, at home and abroad, require secure and reliable power to perform front-line, real-time military operations around the world. Advanced energy provides a means for installations to ensure that disruptions in commercial power supplies will have less impacts on their missions, as well as to reduce costs through efficiency and self-generation.
Growing demand for reliable electric power will drive the need for more resilient, more efficient, and more distributed electric power generation systems. Today, a critical hindrance to intermittent energy sources fulfilling this need is energy storage. Many countries have pledged to bring electricity to a significant share of the 2.6 billion people entirely without it or lacking access to reliable sources . Meeting these commitments will spur growth in this energy sector. At the same time, projected population and economic growth, combined with the transition of much of the world’s transportation to electricity, will drive electric power demand even higher.
We anticipate that the growing demand for electricity will be met increasingly with distributed advanced energy systems harnessing advanced nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, hydrogen, and other energy sources. Because many of these systems can be decentralized and distributed, they can meet the energy needs of populations spread across large geographies, adding resilience by reducing grid vulnerability and risks of energy interruption.
In some advanced energy systems, such as solar and wind, energy production is intermittent–occurring only when the sun is shining or the wind blowing. But electricity demand is not always timed to when these systems are producing power. High-capacity energy storage systems are required to capture excess energy generated when the prime source is available, and to distribute the stored energy when it is not. Without improved large-scale, long-term energy storage, these intermittent supply options will serve only to augment or reduce demand on other power generation sources. Without large-scale storage, utilities will remain reliant on more traditional energy sources–natural gas or nuclear power–as primary fuels or to back up intermittent generating systems. The military’s philosophy on advanced energy is simple: Use them when they improve the effectiveness or resiliency of military operations.
Strong leadership and investment in advanced energy can provide great opportunity for the U.S. to maintain competitive advantage. As the world transitions to advanced energy, the U.S. can maintain its historic competitive advantages in technology and expertise. However, this will require vision and strategic investment. China and E.U. member states are already in the vanguard of manufacturing, deployment, and market penetration. Ceding U.S. leadership here has inherent national security risk, including loss of global influence and diplomatic leverage, as well as forgone economic opportunities. In the U.S., the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law by President Bush, ushered in programs designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil, increase energy sources for domestic electrical power generation, and set the nation on a course for energy independence. A decade later, we are trying to regain our footing.
National and state government policy can be a driver or a barrier to advanced energy innovation and adoption at home. Incentives such as the investment tax credit and renewable portfolio standard have accelerated development and deployment of advanced energy. These have been offset by regulatory and legal frameworks, particularly at the state level.
In summary, the world is at an energy crossroad. The coming decades are rife with opportunities for the U.S. if we take steps now to secure them. We have the standing, the expertise, and, with advanced energy technologies, the tools to secure an energy-independent future for ourselves and to improve the energy environment worldwide. We have only to be resolute.
The U.S. is still in a postition to lead an advanced energy transition.
The U.S. government should develop a comprehensive national energy strategy that promotes energy independence and U.S. engagement and leadership in the advanced energy future. Our recent discoveries in unconventional oil and gas provide the U.S. with newfound access to hydrocarbons, while advanced energy affords an even greater range of domestic energy options. Policymakers should review and update existing legal and regulatory frameworks, embracing advanced energy and its contribution to clean, secure energy independence. This includes encouraging energy efficiency and energy management–key components of advanced energy–to reduce overall energy demand.
The national security challenges and opportunities of the evolving global energy landscape, including advanced energy transition, should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies. The U.S. Departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, Energy, and State, as well as Congress and the Administration, must recognize that the transition to a new global energy posture with advanced energy systems is already occurring, with national security implications that are consequential and wide ranging. Policies should be updated accordingly.
The U.S. should identify and leverage global opportunities that will arise during the transition to advanced energy, especially in fast-growing India and Africa. The U.S. should use energy as a tool of diplomacy to secure our relationships with strategically important allies who would benefit from advanced energy deployment. The technological expertise gained will be invaluable to both emerging and advanced economies, and will provide great opportunity for U.S. businesses. The transition provides a vehicle for advancing stability, democratizing energy access, and supporting economic development in energy-hungry parts of the world.
The Department of Defense should identify, embrace, and deploy advanced energy technologies where they improve the effectiveness of military operations. The Services, the Combatant Commands, and the Joint Staff should continue to explore how advanced energy technologies can improve mission outcomes. DOD should more fully explore energy logistics risks through wargaming and analyses; expand energy performance in requirements for future systems; and invest in research, development, and deployment of advanced energy technologies that offer operational advantages. DOD should pursue innovations in advanced energy for its installations with equal commitment, looking at all alternatives for improving resilience and energy security while reducing energy costs, and including partnering with surrounding communities.
The U.S. should take a leadership role in the transition to advanced energy. The federal government should stimulate investment in the basic and applied sciences to spur innovation. It should reduce or share the risk of private investment in largescale advanced energy projects, and double-down on investment and research for large-scale energy storage options. It should also spur education and workforce development to support a transition to advanced energy. Finally, the U.S. must design, develop, build, and install advanced energy systems at home. This will maintain our global leadership role in energy innovation and enable us to help set the trajectory of the advanced energy transition.