Military enlisting solar power for distributed generation

As of early 2013, there are more than 130 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems powering Navy, Army and Air Force bases in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia.

That’s according to a May 17 report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The SEIA report also credited assistance from several military officials involved with Department of Defense (DOD) efforts to tap renewable energy – often in places where a traditional power grid is unavailable.

Each branch has outlined ambitious renewable energy targets that will drive 3GW of renewable energy installations by 2025. A wider DOD mandate requires 25% of total facility energy consumption come from renewable energy by 2025.

To date the Navy has installed more solar than either the Army or Air Force, with more than 58 MW at or near bases in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

For example, in October 2012, the Navy announced completion of a 14-MW PV project at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California, its largest operating solar project to date. The solar farm, developed and constructed by SunPower, will generate enough energy to supply 30% of the facility’s annual electricity needs,

The Air Force follows the Navy with 38 MW of installed solar capacity, while the Army has deployed more than 36 MW. Together, the three branches have installed more solar than 37 different states. Each branch has also developed plans to significantly expand its solar usage.

Solar PV is expected to account for 58% of military renewable energy additions between 2012 and 2017. Biomass is a distant second at 20%. The average price of a completed PV system has declined by more than 40% since the beginning of 2011, the report said.

The military has used three common third-party structures to develop solar projects: Power purchase agreements (PPAs), Enhanced use leases (EULs) and Energy savings performance contracts (ESPC).

Solar has proven an effective alternative to traditional energy sources in a variety of roles for the DOD.

The military has utilized large, centralized utility scale solar projects to power bases; smaller, distributed-generation (DG) systems to energize buildings and homes; and portable solar systems to provide crucial energy on the battlefield.

Companies have developed solar systems that can be attached to backpacks to power GPS and other equipment as well.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.