US Military Loves Solar, And The Feeling Is Mutual

The Navy leads the way among the U.S. military branches in using solar to power its bases and other domestic facilities, according to a new industry report that attempts to build the case that solar is “helping the U.S. military meet many of its critical functions – from security and battlefield readiness to cost savings and efficiency.”

One thing the Solar Energy Industries Association report definitely makes clear is why the industry is so enthusiastic about the military using solar: It constitutes a huge market.

Solar is making its way to the battlefield – here as part of a water purification system in Afghanistan – but the much bigger use is to power domestic bases and other facilities, including housing. (image via U.S. Marines)

Solar is making its way to the battlefield – here as part of a water purification system in Afghanistan – but the much bigger use is to power domestic bases and other facilities, including housing. (image via U.S. Marines)

The military’s use of solar has grown quickly, but with the Navy at 58.2 MW, the Air Force at 38 MW and the Army at 36.9, the services together still have just 130 MW of solar, leaving a massive gap – and a potentially massive market for solar – to bridge to get the U.S. Department of Defense to its 2025 renewable energy capacity goal of 3 gigawatts (or 3,000 MW).

Of course, solar is just one of many renewable sources the military is turning to, but solar figures to lead the way; the report notes that “PV is 58 percent of the 1.9 GW of identified DOD renewable energy capacity additions from 2012 to 2017.” And the report puts the size of that number in context: “This amounts to approximately 1.1 GW of new PV projects, roughly equal to the amount of global solar capacity in 2000.”

Quoting from the report, here are highlights of each branch’s embrace of solar up to this point:

NAVY

  • As of early 2013, there are more than 58 MW of solar PV operating at DON installations in 12 states and the District of Columbia
  • By 2020, the Navy expects to obtain 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources
  • The Navy has also awarded more than 20 MW of PV projects

AIR FORCE

  • As of early 2013, there are 38 MW of solar PV capacity operating at Air Force bases in 24 states
  • PV will comprise 70 percent of new Air Force renewable energy capacity added from 2012 to 20175
  • The Air Force has plans to add more than 26 MW of PV in 2013 alone

ARMY

  • As of early 2013, there are more than 36 MW of solar PV installed at Army bases in at least 16 states
  • Solar comprises a third of the Army’s planned renewable generating capacity from 2012 to 20176
  • The Army has plans for 55 MW of additional solar projects on military bases as well as 13 MW of solar on the roofs of 4,700 military homes at Fort Bliss in Texas

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.