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Solar Power Gets the Might of the U.S. Military Behind It

by Borderstan.com October 8, 2012 at 10:00 am 0

"Solar"

On 140 acres of unused land on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, 70,000 solar panels are part of a solar photovoltaic array that will generate 15 megawatts of solar power for the base. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for Borderstan.com

From John Shannon  who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]borderstan.com

The first solar panels ever installed were photovoltaic solar panels mounted on military satellites and blasted into space from Cape Kennedy, Florida during the 1960s.

Many of those old but reliable photovoltaic solar-powered satellites are still up there sending us information.

Q: What has this to do with the U.S. military now installing solar panels at exponential rates on its bases?

A: Price.

As the production of solar panels have ramped up, prices have dropped dramatically. In fact, prices have dropped so quickly that some solar manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy due to their inability to stay with the market. Lower-priced materials, manufacturing and technology have all conspired to force a huge price drop.

Faced with budget cuts and the need to lower long-term costs, the U.S. Navy has turned to an old, reliable partner – solar power. In October 2010 the Navy set a goal to produce 50% of its onshore energy needs from renewables by 2020.

For one example of this, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) complex in San Diego has installed 1.3 megawatts of solar panels at the Navy’s headquarters for high-tech military command, communications and surveillance.

SPAWAR now has the U.S. Navy’s largest contiguous rooftop solar array with 5,376 high-performance SolarWorld photovoltaic solar panels providing electricity for the site. Any surplus electricity generated on site is to be sold to the San Diego grid.

For another example, U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWS China Lake), California, is installing an entire photovoltaic solar power plant which is to be financed through a 20-year power purchase agreement between SunPower and the U.S Navy.

Under the terms of the agreement the Navy has no upfront costs. The plant is expected to produce 13.78 megawatts of power and cover 30 percent of NAWS China Lake’s energy needs.

With zero capital investment and giving up only unusable land, the Navy will reduce costs by saving an estimated $13 million over the next 20 years on their NAWS China Lake electricity bill.

President Obama, in his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012, said,

“…the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

Beginning in 1999, the U.S. military has installed solar power systems at many bases, including Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Pearl Harbor, Fort Dix, Coronado Island, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado — among others.

The vast United States military often sets precedent for the rest of the country and this is the case with solar energy. Cities and utility companies have taken careful note of the power purchase agreement model used between the U.S. military and utility companies. Many more such agreements are pending.

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