New report says solar power reduces military costs and boosts security

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has released a first-of-its-kind report detailing how innovative solar technologies are helping the US military meet many of its critical functions – from security and battlefield readiness to cost savings and efficiency.

Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy” shows solar energy’s growing role in powering military installations and military homes across the US, said the SEIA. As of early 2013, there are more than 130 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems powering Navy, Army and Air Force bases across the US.

Just as importantly, solar energy is playing an increasingly important role in making the US military’s energy supply more secure, more affordable and less reliant on at times unstable foreign sources.

“Solar clearly is making a big difference – both on the front lines and in military installations from North Carolina to Hawaii. Many of the technologies being used by the military today have been adapted for use from consumer products,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.

In Afghanistan, for instance, U.S. troops in battle zones are using everything from portable solar panels to solar tent shields to cutting-edge, solar-powered security systems to help them successfully carry out critical missions.
In recent years, the Pentagon has become increasingly concerned about an overdependence on fossil fuels. Today, the military buys petrol for just over $1 a gallon, but getting that gasoline to forward bases in Afghanistan costs more than $400 per gallon.

By utilizing more solar energy, military leaders say they are not only saving money, but potentially saving lives, too, since solar is helping to reduce the number of truck convoys needed to transport fuel, which are frequently the targets of attacks by insurgents or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Over the past decade, there have been more than 3,300 US casualties as a result of attacks on fuel convoys.

“Today, the Defense Department is one of the largest institutional users of solar energy in the world,” Resch added. “After using solar energy on military bases and in the field, many returning servicemen and servicewomen are finding great career opportunities at solar firms, which have been actively recruiting veterans. Many other veterans have started firms of their own.”

In addition to its operational uses, solar energy is helping the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to rein in its massive energy bills. As the largest energy consumer in the world, the DOD faces a $20 billion energy bill each year. In response to increasing energy needs and shrinking budgets, the DOD has committed to meet 25 percent of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025. The Navy, Army and Air Force are each implementing aggressive plans that are increasing investments in solar, which is expected to encourage even more innovation within the industry.

Editor's Note: Subscribe now to find out more about the military's drive for renewables in the May/June issue of Renewable Energy Focus, which is out now.

Further reading

US DOE supports solar PV rooftops on military housing
US energy department announces projects to develop advanced drop-in-biofuels for military jets and ships


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