Solar powered military installations are nothing new but there is a twist to the solar arrays being installed at Los Angeles Air Force Base, because LA AFB is also booting out its old gas guzzling general purpose vehicles in favor of a fleet of electric vehicles, making it the first federal facility of any kind to replace an entire fleet with EV’s. The base will be used as a proving ground for new energy efficient vehicle-to-grid technologies that can squeeze the maximum renewable energy potential from both photovoltaic cells and the electric vehicles, too.
Electric Vehicles for LA AFB
The new EV program is relatively modest, with no tactical or emergency vehicles making the switch (the Air Force is testing fighter jet biofuel under another program, by the way). The base will replace about forty sedans, light duty trucks and shuttle buses with all-electric EVs as well as well as hybrid electric and extended-range EVs. However, the program is serving as a study guide and model that could affect tens of thousands of vehicles in the Department of Defense’s fleets, so its impact could be enormous. Part of the assessment involves costs, of course, and DoD will be looking at the cost of installing charging stations and related infrastructure, and analyzing lifecycle costs of electric vehicles relative to conventional vehicles.
Electric Vehicles and Solar Power
There has been a mushrooming trend of pairing EV charging stations with solar installations, so it’s fair to assume that LA AFB’s solar power plans include EV charging. However, the base also has something a little more sophisticated in mind, a demonstration of V2G (vehicle-to-grid) potential. The idea behind V2G is that electric vehicles spend long stretches of time just sitting around parked, with all that energy in their batteries going unused. In the case of solar-charged EV’s, that’s clean energy going unused. Grid-connected, solar-charged EV’s would provide significant financial benefits to the owner, who could defray the cost of both the solar installation and the EV by selling excess energy to the grid.
Microgrids and V2G Technology
The Department of Defense is also testing smart microgrid technology, including a solar powered microgrid, at military bases. This program is designed to help the DoD achieve energy security by removing its facilities from dependence on the grid. V2G technology comes into play because it could help a facility get the maximum energy potential from its microgrid.
Microgrids, Solar Panels and V2G for All…Not
The Department of Defense has established the position that clean, renewable energy is a matter of national defense that covers the civilian world, not just energy-independent military bases, but the majority party in Congress is not interested investing in new technology for domestic use (heck, they won’t even fund disaster relief here-and-now, let alone investing in our future). Microgrids and locally generated renewable energy sure would have come in handy for at least some of the scores of communities struggling to recover from Hurricane Irene, which are still without power days after the storm.
Image: Solar panels at Los Angeles Air Force Base by Lou Hernandez courtesy of U.S. Air Force.
Tina Casey on Twitter @TinaMCasey
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.