Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Be All That You Can Be--In a Green Job

I’m paying extra attention to news about alternative energy now that my new book, Quick Green Jobs Guide: Six Steps to a Green Career, has come out. You may have heard the news this week that solar panels will be installed on the roof of the White House. These units will supply both electric power and hot water. But you may have missed a more important item of green news: The military has started to invest heavily in alternative energy. This trend will have great impact on the growth of green jobs.

The armed forces are not promoting alternative energy as a symbolic gesture or as a matter of ideology. They’re not even doing this to prevent global warming. The policy makes good sense for purely military reasons.

One reason Alexander the Great was able to conquer Afghanistan was that his transport vehicles (horses) could live off the land. Nor did Alexander need energy for any purposes other than the campfires that could be supplied by local firewood. Modern military history, by contrast, has seen many armies made terribly vulnerable by long supply lines. Our military needs fuel not only to power vehicles but also to keep generators pumping out a steady supply of electricity. The Army buys gasoline for a little over $1 per gallon, but the cost of trucking that gallon to distant bases in Afghanistan can reach $400. Tanker trucks chugging through mountain roads are prime targets for Afghan insurgents. (Also for angry Pakistanis.) In fact, one Army study found that an average of one soldier or civilian is killed for every 24 fuel convoys that set out in Iraq or Afghanistan.

That’s why energy created at the point of use can be so valuable to a military campaign. Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines will be using the following equipment, according to the story in The New York Times: “portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment.” This will be the first time that alternative-energy equipment will be taken into a battle zone.

The Times reports that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants 50 percent of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. That figure includes energy for bases as well as fuel for cars and ships. The Navy has already commissioned an amphibious assault ship that’s hybrid-powered. The Air Force is testing mixtures of biofuels with jet fuel and will have all its planes certified to use biofuels by 2011. The one alternative-energy source notably absent from the military’s plans is wind turbines, which are extremely bulky and work best on the hilltop locations that are hardest to defend.

Secretary Mabus notes that as the military’s use of green energy sources ramps up, the price will come down and infrastructure will be put in place. That will make these technologies more affordable and practical for the civilian economy. That, in turn, means more jobs for green-energy workers.

But the article fails to note one very important consequence of this military policy: The military will be training large numbers of green-energy workers. Civilians often forget that the military is a major educational institution, one that actually pays its students. As the armed forces adopt alternative energy technologies, they will become important sources of worker training for these technologies. As military personnel cycle out of their stints in uniform, they will enter the civilian workforce with the skills required to install solar panels, process biofuels, service hybrid power plants, and perform many other green job functions.

I expect that a future edition of 150 Best Jobs Through Military Training will include Solar Photovoltaic Installers, Biofuels Processing Technicians, Geothermal Technicians, and other green-energy occupations.

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