The commercial market has not developed enough refueling stations for electric or natural gas vehicles to accomadate a large fleet of alternative energy vehicles. (Sheila Vemmer / Staff file photo)
The military services are anxious to buy vehicles that use more alternative fuels and less carbon fuels. There's only one problem: the marketplace.
The Navy, for example, plans to replace about 10,000 vehicles in its 50,000 vehicle fleet every year according to Thomas Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy. But it cannot switch over to large numbers of alternative fuel vehicles because the commercial market has not developed enough refueling stations for electric or natural gas vehicles.
"Today with alternative fuel vehicles we have to be very considerate of the infrastructure that comes with that," Hicks said, noting the lack of electric car charging stations across the country.
He also said the Navy plans to field a "green fleet" of ships by 2016. But to do that, the service needs 100 times more eco-friendly fuel than it uses now, which costs significantly more than traditional fuels.
He said he hopes the Navy can be a market driver in bringing alternative fuel prices down to competitive levels.
As the Army looks to replace 70,000 non-tactical vehicles, it has to weigh whether cars and trucks on the market today can deliver the same performance more efficiently, said Kevin Geiss, the Army's program director for energy security.
"If that vehicle doesn't do the mission then it won't help the installation," Geiss said. He added that the Army has purchased 1,460 hybrid vehicles since May 2009 and that about 28,000 of its vehicles can run on E-85 natural gas and liquid propane gas.
But, he said, just because there are ample supplies of alternative energy sources near bases and facilities, if the price for electricity in a region is much lower than the alternative energy, it makes for a hard business decision.
He pointed to Fort Knox, Ky., which has installed several ground heat pumps, as an example of cost-effective energy savings.
The Air Force also is finding itself stymied by an underdeveloped marketplace, said Deb Tune, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.
She said she hopes the Air Force can drive 10 percent of the market and create more demand for more efficient and environmentally sustainable fuel. But she described the service as a small player, spending $6.9 billion on energy in 2009.
Because a lot of America's domestic energy comes from countries "that might not like us much," Tune said building a domestic supply of sustainable fuel will help both domestic and foreign policy objectives.
"Then we think we can do great things for the country and secure our fuel supply as well," she said.
Hicks, Tune and Geiss spoke at the Green Government symposium in Washington hosted by George Washington University.