Military Base Solar Takes Aim At Grid Parity

Can the U.S. military use solar power to run a base for less than the cost of the grid power provided by a local utility? That’s the proposition now being tested at the Camp Roberts base of the California National Guard, where Nanosolar has completed a 1-megawatt (MW) thin-film solar installation.

The new system at the sprawling Central California base is a product of the Energy Security Technology Certification Pogram (ESTCP). This U.S. Department of Defense program (DOD) has a low public profile, but it’s a key part of the military’s green activities – activities that could spill over into the mainstream and accelerate the country’s clean-energy evolution.

nanosolar thin-film project

image via Nanosolar

The stated goal of the Camp Roberts project is clear: “to achieve a real Levelized Cost of Energy for a 1 MW Nanosolar solar power plant that is at or below grid parity as measured by the average utility pricing paid by Camp Roberts of the California National Guard for power from the grid,” according to the ESTCP.

Other demos in the program — all aimed at reducing military energy use and intensity; increasing onsite renewable energy generation; and improving energy security — include Cogenra projects to deliver hot water and electricity at two military sites using its technology that combines photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies, and a FlexEnergy project to convert the gases from the DOD’s landfill at Fort Benning, Ga., into clean, renewable energy.

“Our project at Camp Roberts shows how our technology can be used for both military and non-military applications, on a path to greater energy independence,” Eugenia Corrales, CEO of Nanosolar, said in a statement. “Nanosolar is on track to deliver the most cost-efficient solar electricity, with the expectation that we can achieve grid parity with non-renewable energy resources by 2015.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.