Clean Power From the Pentagon

The Department of Defense (DOD) in 2019 will invest $1.6 billion in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) that is directly related to energy. Its investment in energy RDT&E reflects the military’s characteristic pursuit of advanced technology as a force multiplier. DOD played a major role in the development of three of the most important energy innovations of the past 75 years—the nuclear reactor, the gas turbine/jet engine, and the solar photovoltaic (PV) cell—and it has been the driver for many major non-energy innovations as well, including radar, satellites, GPS, lasers, computers and semiconductors, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the internet.

In an article for Issues in Science and Technology, Dorothy Robyn and Jeffrey Marqusee explain that, while DOD’s investments in energy RDT&E are driven by military needs, they have significant potential to catalyze civilian clean energy innovation. DOD’s needs are more congruent with priorities for civilian clean energy innovation than is commonly recognized. Moreover, DOD’s approach to innovation is well-suited to energy technology and even addresses gaps in the efforts of the government’s prime agency for civilian energy matters, the Department of Energy (DOE).

Despite their overlapping technology priorities and complementary approaches to innovation, DOE does relatively little to leverage DOD’s investments in energy or its strengths as an innovator. This is a huge missed opportunity. As the United States strives to address such diverse energy innovation challenges as combating climate change and assuring long-term energy security, Congress and the Trump administration should make the most of existing federal energy investments by encouraging greater DOD-DOE collaboration.