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Published on August 9th, 2019 | by Tina Casey

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Why A Mere 2.5 Megawatts Of Solar Power Still Matters

August 9th, 2019 by  


Moody Air Force Base in Georgia is getting 2.5 megawatts of solar power. That may seem like peanuts compared to other new solar arrays at military facilities in the US, which have been coming down the pipeline at 30-50 megawatts and more. However, in this case size doesn’t matter. The new array is smallish but it will help Moody achieve two important Department of Defense goals: mission critical resilience and energy independence. What, so nuclear, coal, and natural gas don’t fit the bill?

Why Not Nuclear, Coal, Or Natural Gas?

Why, indeed. The solar power project is part of a new $11.2 million energy makeover that will save the facility more than $21 million over the next 23 years, so there’s that.

A press release announcing the new PV installation also notes that solar power will “defer current energy that is being sourced from nuclear, coal and gas sources for a more sustainable alternative.” It’s unclear what they mean by sustainable (CleanTechnica is looking into that), but one good guess would be sustainable as it relates to resiliency and energy independence.

On-site solar is one of the strategies DoD is pursuing to ensure a steady supply of electricity at its facilities. In other words, they want to go off grid, because transmission lines can be vulnerable to disruption, attack, or sabotage. Power plants fueled by coal and natural gas don’t fit the bill, partly because their supply chain — railways and pipelines — involves similar vulnerabilities.

As for building new nuclear power plants at military facilities, that’s a possibility, though a remote one. The Department of the Navy studied the issue back in 2011 and jotted down a list of benefits. They also took note of significant obstacles:

“Finding specific sites for nuclear power plants on or near military installations will be challenging. There are many considerations that affect whether a site is appropriate. Some of the considerations relate to safety and others to limiting risks of attack or sabotage, and still others to public opinion. Being located on a military installation provides some advantages, but it also imposes some constraints on how portions of the installation near the nuclear power plant can be used…”

Then there’s Project Dilithium, and other small, modular nuclear reactor initiatives but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms (looking at you, Breakthrough Energy Ventures).

For the record, wind turbines are generally not a good fit for military facilities where air traffic is a consideration, so that’s why the emphasis is typically on solar power when the topic turns to renewable energy for DoD.

The US Air Force in particular has been an early adopter of on-site PV installations and other clean tech like EV-to-grid systems.

Solar Power And Sustainability

Where we were? Oh right, sustainability. The Pentagon is also interested in sustainability in terms of saving the planet by pivoting out of fossil fuels and into solar power and other renewables.

DoD has been raising the alarm over climate change for years. Though the White House fossil-friendly policies seem to have put a damper on the agency’s activities, it is still forging ahead (perhaps with a nudge from Congress) with a broad environmental stewardship mission that includes renewable energy.

As articulated by Moody Air Force Base, that means pursuing new technologies and ensuring “the responsible use of energy throughout the installation, including the adoption of innovative procedures that will conserve energy and improve energy efficiency.”

The mission also encompasses “aggressive pollution prevention, restoration, natural resources conservation, and environmental compliance initiatives.”

If you caught that thing about compliance, local pollution regulations — and just plain neighborliness — are one reason why DoD has continued to carry out renewable energy projects and other environmental upgrades, regardless of federal policy.

2.5 Megawatts Of Solar Power Makes A Difference

The new solar power project comes under the wing of the leading global energy management firm Schneider Electric. The work includes new LED lighting throughout the base, which totals 2 million square feet spread over 60 buildings.

The project will also expand existing energy management systems at the base among other unspecified energy conservation measures and “fundamental infrastructure upgrades” (CleanTechnica is looking into that, too).

In a press statement, Moody Air Force Base outlined the benefits of the project, over and above reducing the facility’s carbon footprint:

“The Air Force is improving its ability to manage energy supply and demand in a way that enhances mission capability and readiness while helping address the nation’s broader energy challenges…Optimizing demand and using resources efficiently will allow the Air Force to increase its mission capabilities as outlined by the Air Force’s Energy Vision to Enhance Mission Assurance Through Energy Assurance.”

Energy Vision! Mission assurance! Do tell! The Energy Vision document referenced by Moody comes from the Air Force Office of Energy Assurance, which is charged with facilitating the Air Force Energy Flight Plan.

The plan focuses carefully on resiliency and mission readiness, renewable energy or not. However, it does seem to come down on the side of renewables. In addition to taking climate change and carbon emissions into account it provides strong visual cues in support of solar power, starting with the front cover.

At heart, the Energy Flight Plan is a call to follow the technology:

“…one of the most important responsibilities of a military service is to prepare the force for the challenges of tomorrow, not just the realities of today. As new technologies and methodologies come to the forefront, the Air Force will evaluate and refine the goals and objectives identified in this Energy Flight Plan.”

Are you listening, fossil fuel stakeholders?

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Photo: Thunderbolt attack jets via Moody Air Force Base (by Senior Master Sgt. Jim Foard). 
 





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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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