Sunday, May 9, 2010

Military Expenditure vs. Alternative Energy Research Expenditure

According to figures calculated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US is responsible for 41.5% of the world's expenditures on military (figures as of 2008). You can check out the CIA's estimates of expenditures as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product as well. It's interesting that a lot of oil producing countries are building their militaries. If the US GDP was $14,204,322M in 2008 then the US spent $577B (billion dollars)  or 4.06% of the GDP, on the military in 2008.

How much do we spend on energy development, I wonder? It's really hard to get an accurate figure. Plus, you have to deconvolve what type of energy we're talking about. Renewable? Limited?

We can examine some interesting info from the Bezdek Report, An Analysis of Federal Expenditures on Energy Development from 1950- 2006, published in September 2008. A few tables from this report illustrate where our priorities have been historically in the USA.

Renewable energy (solar and wind energy) is down there near the bottom of expenditures, along with geothermal energy. So the cleanest and most sustainable energy sources are the least funded, no matter what type of expenditures we examine.

The closest thing that I could find to hard numbers on what the public funding was for energy in 2008 is from the group American Progress. It suggests that only $1B was spent on federally funded civilian energy R&D in the US in 2006. That's right, $1B. That's about 0.18% of the military expenditures in 2008. But it was 7 times that amount, or around $7B in 1980 at the end of the Carter administration. (And think about the difference of the value of a dollar in 1980 versus 2010!)

RAND noted the following in a 2008 report:

Impacts on U.S. Energy Expenditures and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions of Increasing Renewable-Energy Use

Cover: Impacts on U.S. Energy Expenditures and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions of Increasing Renewable-Energy Use
By: Michael Toman, James Griffin, Robert J. Lempert
The penetration of renewable energy into the marketplace has been small, held back principally by their higher cost relative to fossil energy. RAND assessed the potential impacts on U.S. consumer energy expenditures and national CO2 emissions of producing 25 percent of U.S. electric power and motor-vehicle transportation fuels from renewable resources by the year 2025. The baseline for the comparisons was expenditures and CO2 emissions in 2025 as drawn from the reference-case tables of the Energy Information Administration's 2006 Annual Energy Outlook. The report shows that increasing renewables use can reduce CO2 emissions and enhance energy security by lowering the cost of imported petroleum. However, a large, inexpensive, easily converted biomass supply is necessary for significantly increased renewable-energy use to have a relatively low impact on consumer energy expenditures. Rapid progress also is needed in the technologies converting biomass feedstock into transportation fuels, and producing power at marginal wind sites. Without progress in these areas, the renewable-energy requirement could substantially increase consumer energy expenditures. Technical advances in provision of economically and environmentally sound biomass energy and wind power generation at lower-quality sites should be top priorities for increasing affordable supplies of renewable energy. 

Make no mistake. The Obama administration has tried to be friendlier to energy R&D than was the Bush administration. Look at the House's Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009. (See also) But until we as citizens clearly demand cleaner and more sustainable energy and are willing to support the costs of its development, we'll likely be seeing more of this:

NASA Satellite Image, May 4, 2010

Deepwater Horizon Spill, viewed from International Space Station,
May 4, 2010, NASA.

In my pipedream of the moment, I imagine reducing military spending by a flat 10% and putting that 10% into renewable energy R&D. But even if we were to look at just 1% of the military budget, imagine what a simple influx of $5.77B could do? At almost 6 times the present level of funding, maybe we could finally start to make some headway on the issue of energy independence, reduction of CO2 emissions and saving our planet for future generations.


  1. Just a quick comment. I have done the energy analysis for a couple of EIS reports dealing with power plants. Although sustainable energy is very feasible on a homeowner/single building level, it is not feasible on a utility baseload level. Storage capacity is one of the main problems. Also, what is potentially feasible in one part of the country is not feasible in another.

    Here is a webpage that provides a great deal of information on energy ( As you point out, research is the key.

  2. Thanks for the link, Jen. Research is definitely the key and while solar energy may still not be practical in many geographic areas, the lack of research into cleaner nuclear energy, along with better wind and hydroelectric options, is frustrating. Basically, since sustainable energy in any form is likely to produce far less revenue for the purveyor/contractor, I can cynically conclude that the real reason there has been so little emphasis on research into alternative energy options is that it is simply not going to produce the profits and revenues that an industry like the oil or coal industry is capable of producing.

  3. Marzie-

    I equally-as-cynically have to agree with you.