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In a heated election season, many US voters see solar and renewable energy as a partisan debate. They shouldnt. Case in point: the US military.

The US Department of Defense, the worlds largest energy consumer, realized early on that renewables decrease US reliance on foreign oil and save taxpayers money.

And, more importantly, renewable energy saves troops lives on the battlefield.

Renewables decrease US reliance on foreign oil and save taxpayers money.

Back in 2006, the top US military commander in western Iraq requested PV panels and other renewable energy systems. He categorized this as a priority 1 need to reduce the time fuel convoys spend on roads where they are vulnerable to roadside bombs and attacks.

The Marine Corps must augment our use of fossil fuels with renewable energy, such as photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines, at our outlying bases, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer wrote in a request to the Pentagon in July 2006. By reducing the need for [petroleum-based fuels], we can decrease the frequency of logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our Marines, soldiers, and sailors Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success.

Since then, the US military has made significant strides.

Solar energy powers Marines field equipment and infrared solar-powered lights line runways and helipads in the Middle East. Lockheed Martin is designing a solid oxide fuel cell generator that will be integrated with solar panels for the US Marines, expected to reduce overall fuel usage required for tactical electrical generation by 50% or more.

On the home front, Californias Twentynine Palms operates a 1.5MW Baker Electric Solar system.

In January, SunPower broke ground on a 13.78MW solar PV power system at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California, which is the Navy‘s largest solar system. It was commissioned in September.

In February, the US Army tapped Siemens to build a 4.465MW solar photovoltaic power generating system (the largest to date for the US Army) at New Mexicos White Sands Missile Range, one of the largest military installations in the country.

In August, the Air Force reached a deal with SunEdison to build a 14.5MW PV array at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. This will be the Air Forces largest solar energy generating project, bumping a 14.2MW array at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada down to number 2.

Military_Solar_Nellis_AFB_S
Solar array at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (US)

Leading by example

By reducing the need for [petroleum-based fuels], we can decrease the frequency of logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our Marines, soldiers, and sailors

A late August meeting drew more than 600 attendees interested in submitting proposal for a piece of the $7 billion Renewable and Alternative Energy Power Production for Department of Defense Installations Multiple Award Task Order Contract (MATOC).

According to the US Army, the capacity crowd bodes well for the Defense Departments ambitious goal to deploy 3GW of renewable energy, including solar, wind, biomass or geothermal, on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025.

The US military is leading by example. Its helping the US become more energy independent, and its also fighting for civilians to be able to more easily access solar power.

Over the summer, Department of Defense representatives descended on Californias capitol in Sacramento supporting the community solar bill, SB 843, the Community Renewable Energy Act, that aimed to make it easier for California residents and businesses access to renewable energy by enabling utility customers to voluntarily buy up to 100% renewable power from a shared facility. The bill could have added up to 2GW of new distributed solar facilities, nearly tripling Californias solar generation capacity and creating up to 18,000 jobs, according to a University of California, Berkeley study. Instead, it died in an Assembly committee as a result of intense lobbying by utility companies PG&E and Southern California Edison, which opposed the bill.

But with examples set by the military and continued bi-partisan support, similar bills and more solar installations across the US will have their day in the sun.

Written by Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, News Editor, Solar Novus Today

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