One of the siren songs for environmentalists is reducing the need for oil so governments don’t feel it necessary to fight wars for it – but ironically, one of the largest drivers in the global push for renewable energy development could well become the military.

According to a study issued this week by Pike Research, the U.S. Department of Defense as well as combined military agencies in all developed and developing countries are projected to increase annual spending of today’s $1.8 billion to $26.8 billion by 2030.

U.S. DOD renewable energy spending for land, air, and sea mobility alone is estimated to jump 5.6 times in the next four years from $400 million annually to $2.25 billion in 2015. By 2030, it is projected to be spending $7.5 billion annually just on renewable energy for mobility needs.

Office of Naval Research-sponsored fuel cell vehicles are operating at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. The ONR, the DOD and private industry are looking at fuel cell power to expand warfighter capabilities – whether to reduce the size and weight of man-portable devices or to meet the megawattage requirements for shipboard power.

The various branches of the DOD reportedly combine to form the single largest consumer of energy in the world – more than any other public or private entity and greater than more than 100 other nations.

No doubt the initiative to whittle down costs and amp up efficiency is broad based, but according to United States Air Force Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, the military renewable energy ball really got rolling with the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act.

A federal mandate also backed it up Oct. 5, 2009, in the form of an executive order signed by President Obama. This required a host of environmentally oriented changes for all federal agencies, including slashing energy budgets and reducing greenhouse gases through 2020.

Morgan, who works for the press desk for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, acknowledged the orders, but cited strategic and tactical reasons as the core motivation behind military pursuit of renewable energy.

Firepower and battery power are now both tactically important.

“It started with the 2009 NDAA and office established by the President a year ago,” Morgan said to GM-Volt yesterday, “However it was a response to the military stating the need to better utilize energy on the battlefield that increases our capability and decreases the risks to the military in the field.”

What it will actually mean for civilian sector electric and hybrid vehicles is open to speculation.

Trickledown benefits from military innovations may be in the span of a year to never depending on what kind of security issues are involved with batteries, biofuels, synthetic fuels, fuel cells – and for that matter, photovoltaics, geothermal energy, hydrokinetics, microgrids, and more technologies included in the sweeping mandates.

What is certain – assuming funding remains in place – is pushing back the renewable energy frontier is not solely up to private equity groups, corporations and individuals. Now the most powerful energy consumers on earth are also making it a priority.

The Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV) created by Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide was on display this year at the Indy 500. The diesel-electric hybrid delivers 5,000 foot-pounds of torque, climbs 60-percent grades, tops out at 80 mph. It uses 25-percent less fuel than comparable vehicles.

“Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies, in many cases, holds the potential to bridge the ‘valley of death’ that lies between research & development and full commercialization of these technologies,” said Pike Research President Clint Wheelock.

Pike’s report was actually written for industry stakeholders who immediately stand to benefit, not necessarily those contributing to the EV industry per se.

“This presents a sizable market opportunity for defense contractors, project developers and systems integrators, and technology developers across all renewable energy sectors,” he said.

Nonetheless, seeing the implications for civilian transportation, we followed up this week with a call to Senior Analyst, Dave Hurst, of Pike Research. He conferred with Wheelock and replied yesterday, concurring that military spending could one way or the other benefit civilian advanced-tech vehicles.

Solar panels soak up rays and convert it to electricity while Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, dig a hole at Combat Center Range 220 July 26. The Marines, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., are utilizing the panels to power radios, laptop computers, lighting, ventilation and other systems.

He said one factor affecting whether or not the public sees trickledown depends on how advanced the technology is. If the U.S. military, for example, worked the bugs out of a zinc-air, or other next-generation battery, Hurst said the new technology may not show up in your Volt next year or even 10-20 years if it is of strategic advantage to the military, or cost prohibitive for ordinary use – so that is not good news.

If however the military decided to convert a fleet of Humvees to hybrid, or otherwise created a large purchase order, he said, then civilian contractors like LG Chem, A123 Systems, etc., could bid on them. Once defense contracts were awarded, funding to manufacturing would increase production, and ancillary benefits would reach the civilian sector.

This is particularly true if an existing technology like lithium-ion batteries are called for, or merely scaled up or improved in some way.

Hurst off-handedly commented that unmanned aerial vehicles could also call for lithium-based batteries. His point was any “defense related gadget could filter to the help the EV space.”

As for the broad picture, Pike Research found the largest opportunity is for the solar energy market, followed by wind and geothermal.

In the mobility domain, a focus is yet on biofuels and synfuels for major existing requirements such as tactical vehicles, trucks, tanks, fighter jets, naval vessels, and so forth.

Beyond environmental reasons, as Morgan noted, the push for alternative sources is also tactical, strategic – and it is cost-based.

For example, lighter weight batteries for mobile soldiers to carry can make them tactically more effective. Reducing the amount of fuel consumed by making vehicles more efficient, or offsetting fuel needs with battery-fuel hybrids reduces the amount to transport.

A comprehensive treatment of ramifications is beyond the scope of this article, and involves myriad issues. One thing we can say is we have not heard the end of this, and it will have a ripple effect. Pike Research thinks the info is worth something too – the report costs $3,800 for 1-5 copies, or $5,700 for rights to unlimited copies.

If you want to know more for free, you can download an executive report .

We will also say this appears to repeat a paradox we have seen in other ways before. Namely, as many people hope to pacify a violent world, a recurring fact is military involvement has shown itself able to contribute as an innovator for good as well as destruction.

This is not to make a case for or against, but merely observing: throughout history – especially in the late 19th and through the 20th century – economies were spurred by wars, including two world wars.

Lightweight and connected. Soldiers are relying on batteries for all sorts of things in all sorts of conditions.

Many spin-off technologies came out of these atrocious events; many fortunes were made under benign as well as not-so-benign circumstances, and industries were enhanced or created.

One major example is we got nuclear power from World War II, which to this day is debated whether that was good or not.

At this juncture, as people look for cleaner, home-built transportation solutions, for weaning away from oil – and away from the impetus for wars fought for oil – it seems the military may again have a significant part to play.

Source: Pike Research