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New Report Outlines US Miltary’s Solar Powered Might

If you have any doubts about solar power’s place in the US energy landscape, check out the new report from the Solar energy Industries Association (SEIA). Titled “Enlisting the Sun: Powering the US Military with Solar Energy,” the report details solar power systems at Army, Navy, and Air Forces in more than 31 states and Washington, D.C. that add up to more than 130 megawatts. Though not a great deal relative to the Department of Defense’s overall energy consumption, it still accounts for a hefty little chunk of the nation’s current installed solar capacity, which SEIA estimates at 7,700 MW, and it’s growing fast.

new SEIA report outlines military solar power

Military solar power in Afghanistan courtesy of SEIA.

A Snapshot Of US Military Solar Power

We’ve spent the past several years chronicling the Department of Defense’s forays into solar power on a piecemeal basis, so it’s nice to have someone else do the heavy lifting of compiling it all into one neatly packaged report.

One thing that the SEIA report teases out is that the military’s adoption of solar power is keeping pace with the industry’s breakneck rate of growth.

SEIA estimates that photovoltaic (PV) energy will account for about 1.1 gigawatts of new military PV capacity added in the five-year period from 2012 to 2017, which is about equal to the entire installed global solar capacity in 2000.

In terms of domestic facilities, the move to solar and other forms of locally sourced, renewable energy makes bottom line sense for the military. It provides a more secure supply chain that is buffered against grid disruptions, it opens the potential for a long term downward trend in energy costs, and it helps to insulate the Pentagon’s budget from fuel price spikes and supply issues related to global forces beyond its control.

That last point is a key one, even without sequester-related cuts. The Pentagon has a gigantic budget but not an infinite one, and when fuel prices spike up that cuts into the fuel budget for training and readiness.

Solar Power On The Battlefield

In addition to a thorough rundown of domestic solar installations, the SEIA report will also give you a good grasp of the important role that solar power is beginning to play in forward operations overseas.

Combined with energy storage, solar power provides off-grid, portable on-the-go energy generation capability that is less noisy and noxious than diesel generators. Solar power is mechanically more reliable than diesel-fueled generators, and the military has been moving swiftly from stationary solar set-ups to solar-in-a-suitcase kits that can be set up and broken down on the fly.

Solar canopies do double duty as sun shades, providing a moveable force with more bang for the buck. That goes double for solar-in-a-backpack kits and other forms of wearable solar devices that help cut down on the heavy load of batteries that ground forces typically slog about.

Solar-powered charging devices also help cut down on the whole portable battery supply chain issue, including disposal, which overall has been described as a “logistical nightmare,”

A New Definition Of National Defense

Petroleum dependency exposes US forces to alliances that are not otherwise in the nation’s best interest and put our troops at risk. In more direct terms, as the SEIA report points out, it literally costs lives when fuel convoys expose troops and other personnel to attack.

The converse is that renewable forms of energy like solar power saves lives, and you can see the domestic reflection of that in the Army’s Net Zero initiative. The immediate goal is just what it says, to achieve net zero energy, water and waste at Army facilities in the US, which includes transitioning from grid-supplied energy to on site or hyper-local sources of renewable energy.

Check out the Net Zero website, though, and you’ll see that Army Net Zero goes far beyond a numbers game to embrace a straight up expression of the Army’s emerging environmental stewardship role, both for its facilities and its host communities, as a key element in a strong national defense.

With that in mind, consider that solar, wind and geothermal are rapidly replacing coal-fired power plants in the US, a trend that is expected to have a significant, positive impact on public health (all else being equal, at least).

For that matter, solar power is just one part of a the military’s overall energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuel programs, which include wind, geothermal, landfill biogas, next-generation biofuels, smart microgrids and EV-to-grid technology as well as a broader effort to instill a culture of energy awareness.

Do check out the SEIA report. A quickie fact sheet is available here.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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