MELBOURNE, Australia — Some Asian countries’ militaries are gearing up for a new energy paradigm amid a perfect storm of security concerns, climate change and the emergence of renewable resource options that are driving operational changes.
The economic powerhouses of East Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, have for a long time understood the vulnerability of their energy supply, and how it is vital to their economies, which primarily consist of oil products sent by sea from the Middle East through a number of maritime chokepoints.
The need for energy security is more pressing for their militaries, given the complex national security tasks that include deterring Chinese aggression, preparing for the unpredictable nature of a nuclear-armed North Korea and overcoming humanitarian disasters. As alternative energy sources become increasingly viable, these countries and their militaries are renewing efforts to pivot to these.
Japan on July 13 released a defense whitepaper that, for the first time, mentioned climate change. The document noted that climate change will directly impact militaries around the world by increasing the demand to deploy forces for rescue operations, as well as threatening the safety of equipment and bases.
The whitepaper warned that shortages of water, food and land caused by the effects of climate change — melting sea ice, a rise in sea level, intense heat waves ― can trigger and escalate conflicts over resources. In addition, more frequent extreme weather events could cause large-scale disasters and a rise in the spread of infectious diseases, the government reported.
It recommended countries around the world brace for an increase in disaster relief and medical support missions, as well as humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities.
But the Japan Self-Defense Forces are already increasing their use of renewable energy, with an ongoing drive to bolster the use of solar power at bases and facilities.
The government eventually wants the forces to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy at its domestic facilities. The aim comes amid a nationwide effort to increase the use of renewable energy among industry, with the goal for renewable energy to account for 22-24 percent of national energy consumption by 2030.
On the smaller Southeast Asian island of Singapore, the nation is turning its military into a more energy-efficient force. Strategically located at the southern end of the trait of Malacca, where a vital chokepoint meets the South China Sea, Singapore’s port is highly dependent on the maritime trade that passes through it.
On this highly urbanized island of less than 6 million inhabitants, the refining and exporting of petrochemicals is the leader of economic activity. And Singapore’s carbon footprint is big for its size: It’s estimated the country contributes 0.11 percent of global emissions, despite making up 0.0005 percent of the world’s land, according to a report from The Straits Times, citing testimony to Parliament. In actual terms, this translated to Singapore producing 52.5 million tons of carbon emissions in 2017 alone, a senior minister told lawmakers.
The country is also dependent on fossil fuels to generate power, with 95 percent of its power needs met by natural gas. However, it is seeking to diversify its power sources for energy security by increasing the use of solar energy and other low-carbon sources. The government has also pledged to reduce its absolute carbon emission levels after 2030 and halve that by 2050.
The Singaporean military is part of this effort and has undertaken a number of measures to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and decrease carbon emissions. These range from gradually replacing the Defence Ministry’s 400 administrative vehicles with hybrid — and eventually electric — models.
For its part, the Republic of Singapore Air Force recently built a “net-positive energy” hangar at Changi East Air Base for its Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft, meaning the structure can generate more energy than it consumes.
The Defence Ministry said that solar panels on the roof of the hangar can generate up to 1.225 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, or 30 percent more electricity than it consumes. The additional energy generated will then be distributed to other buildings on the air base.
Other features of the hangar include the use of sustainable materials in its construction, a rainwater-harvesting system, the use of natural ventilation and energy-efficient LED lighting.
The new hangar improves on a similar hangar for the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. Unveiled in 2017, the structure features the use of mirrors to direct sunlight into the hanger to maximize the use of natural light. It also uses steel louvers and wind-powered turbines to improve natural air circulation.
Singapore’s Army has also commissioned net-zero energy buildings at a number of its camps, and the service is installing solar panels at others. The Republic of Singapore Navy is also looking into the use of hybrid propulsion for future ships, which would see improved energy efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint.