Sunday, August 02, 2009


The Cost of Energy

A few days ago Businessweek’s site had an article on DARPA’s efforts to find alternative energy sources. Frankly I doubt very strongly that DARPA will pull any rabbits out of its hat, unless it has that Holy Grail, “alien technology.” But for now, I’m totally discounting that possibility, for reasons I explained here.

Anyway, the article makes this very revealing statement.
The U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq are voracious consumers of energy. As a result they have become perilously dependent on long, costly, and vulnerable convoys of diesel-fuel tankers. More vehicles are used to transport and guard the fuel—mostly for running generators for air conditioning, laptops, and other gear at U.S. bases and posts—than are deployed in actual combat, according to a May report by the Military Advisory Board. With the expense of convoys and guards thrown in, the cost of a gallon of fuel used at the front can range from $15 to several hundred dollars, says the same report.
There are some juicy tidbits of information here. For example, transporting the fuels requires the services of more vehicles than are used in combat itself. Of course the dollar value range given in the quote is instructive, but this fact about the vehicle requirement is really telling. This large expenditure of money, personnel, and vehicles (which all comes down to energy) just to get fuel to the front reminds me of the “net Hubbert curve” that is so much in the news these days (if you haven’t yet read this Oil Drum article, I urge you to do so at your earliest possible convenience).

Another interesting tidbit is what the fuel is used for: mainly to power electric appliances and electronic gear. Here we get a glimpse of how energy-intensive these industrialized, high-tech military forces are, and of course how vulnerable they are to fuel shortages. Which brings to mind the question of how the rag-tag enemy (for lack of a better term) forces manage without so much high-tech communications gear, air conditioning, laptops, and the like. They seem to be putting up an amazingly good fight with certainly much less high-tech gear, and a far lower energy expenditure. And recall from the previous post that high-tech gear itself also gobbles up huge amounts of energy in its manufacture.

As I write this, the world economy is still in the toilet, yet oil is trading at close to $70/bbl. I don’t know about you, but I wonder about the future of such energy-intensive, high-tech warfare. Sooner or later, it’s back to horses.

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