Department of defense

Unlocking The Solar Power Of Military Bases

Military bases are huge. And they have lots of open space. So much open space, in fact, that bases in Southern California could become solar power generators - contributing up to $100 million per year in revenue to the federal government, according to a new study commissioned at the request of Congress.

The Department of Defense has a huge power bill, some $4 billion per year, according to this story in CleanTechnica that sums up the findings of a year-long study for the military by Virginia-based analytical firm ICF International. Even though 96% of the open space would be considered off limits, the remaining 4 percent is enough to generate 7,000 megawatts, which, CleanTechnica states, is 30 times more power than the bases consume.

The government could receive $100 million in rent payments, reduced cost power, in-kind contributions or some combination thereof, the study states. The military solar could generate enough power to supply 1.75 million homes, according to industry estimates.

However, it's unlikely that all of that 4 percent would be claimed. Much of the land is remote and access to the transmission grid poses significant challenges. That said, about 25,000 acres at military bases in Southern California are "suitable" for development, and about 100,000 acres are "likely" or "questionably" suited for solar development. The researchers assumed 100 percent of the 25,000 "suitable" acres and 25 percent of the "likely" and "questionable" land could be turned over to private solar developers.

Most of the installations already contain one to two megawatts of solar power - and large chunks of property that can't be used for solar. Modern weapons systems and other issues - flash flood hazards, steep slopes and conflicts with native habitat - prevent development of the overwhelming majority of the land.

But covering just 6 percent of the potentially available land would generate enough power to meet the military's 2005 renewable-energy goals, the report states.

Five types of solar projects were considered: rooftops, shaded parking lots; shading structures over unpaved parking lots; and ground arrays.

As CleanTechnica notes, "military bases occupy more than 30 million acres of land, much of it in areas with lots of sun, and they need a secure supply of electricity as a matter of security..."

So, why not use solar? The clean energy would help California reach or exceed its ambitious 33 percent renewables mandate and, when combined with other innovative programs (such as using rights-of way under transmission lines; More on that here,), would put otherwise waste land to productive use.

To unlock that potential, the authors put forth the following recommendations for the Department of Defense:

Work with stakeholders to accelerate construction of transmission lines; develop microgrid technology on the military bases (like this project) and further refine its energy-security goals; provide incentives for military installations that invest in energy technology; and work with the federal Bureau of Land Management (which also leases land to solar companies) to ensure the government is getting fair rents.

Here is a New York Times story on the report.

Photo: Solar array at Fort Hunter by

The U.S. Military: The Big Green Machine Gets Even Greener

The military has a history of innovation that eventually goes mainstream. The most notable example, of course, is the Internet. Developed for the military, it revolutionized society. Department of Defense support also helped forge commercial development of global positioning systems and semiconductors.

Green energy and microgrids could be next on the list of advancements to expand beyond military bases and the battlefield. In a new report and a video, PEW Charitable Trusts says the emergence of clean energy and increasingly competitive alternative energy sources "presents DoD (Department of Defense) with opportunities for saving lives and money in the years ahead."

There are challenges, such as an austerity movement (although it could be argued that a strong clean-energy program actually saves money) and fallout from the Solyndra bankruptcy, which sidetracked an ambitious plan to attach solar to put solar panels on military housing. Whether the program survives remains to be seen.

Still, the military is moving ahead on other fronts. And it is not alone. Big Business, led by Walmart, Google and others, is pushing on. Walmart is particularly interesting; the world's largest retailer wouldn't be pursuing such an ambitious program if it wasn't profitable. If you want to know more about Walmart's efforts, read this new book.

In fact, there is so much going on that the phrase "industrial revolution" keeps coming up in regard to green energy. Economist Jeremy Rifkin is the latest, calling it "the third Industrial Revolution."

The military's efforts certainly are a catalyst. Using alternative fuel to power jets and other vehicles can sharply reduce dependence upon oil. The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States, gobbling more than 375,000 barrels of oil per day in 2009 - more than all but 35 nations.

Liquid petroleum accounts for about 75 percent of the military's annual energy consumption, and more than $11 billion of its annual power bill. So, electric vehicles and biofuel such as algae and switchgrass can save millions of dollars. Did you know base leaders at Fort Bliss, Texas, drive tiny electric cars made of recycled plastic? Leave the Hummer home, baby!

Recently, a company of Marines operated their equipment solely on solar and battery power for 192 hours, saving eight gallons of fuel per day. And it is quieter, making it safer to operate on the battlefield.

From the report: "The Navy has also made progress on hybrid systems for ships. The USS Makin Island was commissioned in 2009 with a hybrid electric propulsion system that will save more than $250 million in fuel costs over the life of the ship. Looking forward, a hybrid electric drive system will be tested and installed as a proof of concept on the USS Truxtun. The Navy estimates successful testing will result in fuel savings of up to 8,500 barrels per year."

Just as alternative fuel enhances the security of energy supplies, self-contained microgrids and other smart-energy technology can protect the military's 500,000 buildings (totaling 2.2 billion square feet) at 500 major installations from commercial power outages.

Pew cites market analysts who project the military will account for almost 15 percent of the microgrid market in 2013, and that military implementation of microgrids will grow by 375 percent to $1.6 billion annually in 2020.

The Pew report is fascinating, and there is much more than recapped here. After reading it, I'm left with this thought: The influence of the military combined with growing interest in energy efficiency and sustainability by Big Business and others equals the start of a powerful movement that likely will pick up speed as awareness increases.

Photo of soldiers deploying a solar banket by Petty Officer 2nd Class Paul D. Williams, US Navy)

Could Renewable Energy Be The Next Big Thing?

It is safe to say the Internet, which started as as a military application, revolutionized society.

Now, a new Pike Research report suggests a similar scenario is possible in renewable energy, which the Department of Defense is aggressively pursuing as it seeks to cut costs, reduce its carbon footprint and increase energy security. Going Green could be the next big thing.

"Pike Research sees the DOD as a key driver in a (renewable energy) revolution that will directly impact non-military sectors, much the way the Internet and GPS have progressed over the last decade," the study says, noting a caveat: the energy must be reliable, and meet extensive testing and certification standards.

The study projects the military's investment in the procurement and production of renewable energy will reach $3 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2030. As the largest power consumer in the world - using 80 percent of the government's total energy annually - the military's influence is immense. It's easy to see the logic behind Pike's projection.

Every branch of the military is going green. The Army is building solar arrays. The Navy and Air Force are turning to biofuels, fuel cells and hybrid-electric technology. Marines in Afghanistan have solar-powered equipment to avoid deadly oil-supply runs. Read more about that here.

The military also is testing wind turbines and geothermal, and conserving more energy by replacing pumps and lighting. The Department of Defense has about 450 clean energy projects as of early 2010. One of the most ambitious: creating net-zero military bases that produce as much energy as they consume.

But even the military, with all its resources and $809 billion budget (23 percent of all government spending), has limitations. This blog, written by a retired general and a green-minded business leader, notes that the private sector isn't developing the sought-after technology fast enough.

The Pike report cites some military/private sector partnerships, such as testing camelina-based fuel developed by a Montana company, but the bloggers suggest the military establish more relationships between the private and public sectors - just as past partnerships between military and business advanced the Internet and space travel.

The support of the military - and the increasing awareness by Big Business that sustainability pays off socially and economically - bodes well for the green movement in general. If renewable energy takes off like the Internet, the resource-rich and geographically blessed San Joaquin Valley in California's heartland could reap huge benefits.

The Lemoore Naval Air Station is on tap to get solar panels, but much more could come to the area. Dozens of solar projects are already proposed in the region between Stockton and the Grapevine, and the fast-growing Valley, blessed with land, sun, wind resources to its north and south and wedged between three major population centers, is well positioned to capitalize on the emerging green economy.

Photo from

From Solar To Landfills, The Military Leads The Way To Energy Independence

As politicians in Washington do their partisan dance around clean energy, the military is moving full speed ahead. The Department of Defense recognizes that renewable energy reduces our dependency upon foreign oil, saves American lives and cuts costs.

As this item in Clean Technica states, the military is embracing all things renewable - even generating energy from landfills. At Fort Benning, GA, for example, two new power stations will convert landfill gas to electricity.

Even better, this technology is mobile. The so-called Powerstation can be redeployed on relatively short notice. Like solar backpacks, it is another example of the military's increasing energy independence.

Here, the Department of Defense outlines its platform on renewable energy, and its quest to reduce the role of oil. To further establish its point, the Department of Defense has aligned with the Department of Energy to "strengthen national security" through continued development of clean-energy technology.

Here is a quote from a press release announcing the partnership between the two federal agencies:

"Advances in innovation are helping to solve our military challenges, protect our troops, and enhance our national security. At the same time, these efforts have the potential to yield spin-off technologies with both military and civilian applications that will help create jobs in the U.S. and speed America's transition to a clean energy economy," said Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman. "Our joint efforts in everything from advanced vehicles to energy storage to grid security are protecting our men and women in uniform, promoting America's economic prosperity, and improving our environment."

The military has installed solar panels to help power a base in Nevada, planted cool roofs in Texas, and is interested in portable wind power when possible. The military equates its efforts to national security, saying its reliance on fossil fuel leaves the nation vulnerable to hostile nations. There is more in this report from a military advisory board.

About $20 billion of its budget goes toward energy, and every $10 increase in the per-barrel price of oil costs the department an additional $1.3 billion. With incentive to change and a can-do innovative nature, the military is uniquely positioned to lead the charge toward a future of renewable energy.

For The Military, Going Green Is A Matter Of National Security

We've written about Corporate America seizing the reins of the green-energy movement, but Big Business is hardly alone. The military is moving full-speed ahead in an effort to rely less on costly foreign oil and more on renewables, while also saving money through energy conservation.

It really is fascinating to watch. The military no longer wants to be the biggest consumer of fossil fuel in the world. So, ships are heading to sea with hybrid technology that could save billions in fuel costs, soldiers in war zones are using solar energy, the Army has a goal of net-zero energy use and the U.S. Air Force has concluded that saving energy not only saves the environment, but could save lives and money.

The Department of Defense has even established a Web site that details its Green efforts.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at a recent clean-energy conference (where he also criticized a RAND Corp. study that questioned the effectiveness of biofuels) that a green fleet makes sense considering the massive costs in dollars and lives of using and hauling oil, and the apparent disconnect of using foreign sources to power ships, planes and tanks that are made in the United States.

How strong the green-energy movement gets in this era of budget cuts and political bickering remains to be seen, but the support of Big Business and the Department of Defense helps keep up the momentum.