New Report Shows How Military Technology Investment Can Support Civilian Clean Energy Innovation

March 5, 2019

WASHINGTON—The Department of Defense (DOD) is the largest energy consumer in the United States. But it also invests $1.6 billion a year in research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) on energy needs, and a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s leading think tank for science and technology policy, shows how this investment can support advances in civilian clean energy innovation.

“DOD’s advanced technology serves as an important force multiplier, making DOD a longstanding engine of innovation in the United States,” said Dorothy Robyn, Senior Fellow at Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy and co-author of the report. “Although mission-driven, the military’s full-spectrum approach to innovation ensures DOD energy RDT&E will contribute to civilian clean energy innovation.”

The report examines five pathways through which military investment has influenced civilian uptake of technology:

  1. Investment in foundational science, technology, and engineering;
  2. Pursuit of technologies for military use before they are of commercial interest;
  3. Investment in R&D to leverage and advance commercial technology;
  4. Provision of infrastructure and platforms as test beds for demonstration and validation of commercial technology; and
  5. Early adoption and large-scale procurement of new technologies that have not yet penetrated the commercial market.

According to the report, clean energy technologies likely to benefit most from DOD RDT&E and procurement include: solar PV, microgrids, energy storage, and wide bandgap semiconductors for power electronics. Others could include: wireless power transmission, fuel cells, advanced composites, fuel-efficient propulsion, building energy technologies, and small modular nuclear reactors.

The report offers ten recommendations for ways the Department of Energy (DOE), as well as Congress and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID), can better leverage DOD’s RDT&E investments without compromising their military value:

  1. DOE should factor DOD’s needs and strengths as an innovator into the strategies of, and roadmaps for, both its fundamental and its applied research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to capture DOE-DOD synergies.
  2. DOE should partner with DOD on its stationary-storage programs.
  3. DOE’s battery technology programs should engage with DOD end users to identify their storage needs.
  4. DOE’s solar technology program should partner with DOD to speed the path to next-generation PV materials that can compete with silicon.
  5. DOE’s manufacturing initiatives should look to DOD to be an early adopter.
  6. DOE should partner with DOD to advance the deployment of stationary (non-tactical) microgrids.
  7. DOE’s advanced small modular reactors (SMRs) program should look to DOD to be an early customer.
  8. DOE, through its Building Technologies Office and Federal Energy Management Program, should lead a government-wide effort to demonstrate and validate energy technologies for the built environment in federal facilities.
  9. Congress should direct the National Research Council to conduct a study to identify impediments to and opportunities for greater DOE-DOD collaboration on energy RD&D.
  10. U.S. AID should explore opportunities to exploit DOD’s work on tactical microgrids.

“While DOD’s and DOE’s approaches to innovation are quite different, there is significant opportunity to leverage their strengths in ways that complement one another,” said Jeffrey Marqusee, Senior Research Adviser for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and co-author of the report. “The scale of DOD’s innovation effort and the tight link between technology spending and its mission requirements demonstrate an effective model for innovation. This innovation system is also well-suited to energy technology, and stronger collaboration with DOD would strengthen DOE as an innovator.”

Read the report.