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U.S. military solar power jumps up-significantly

The U.S. military-one of the largest single consumers of energy in the world-is taking some big steps to curb its energy consumption and increase the amount of renewable energy it uses, with a number of solar power projects.

By Paul MacDonald

The United States Department of Defense is one of the largest single consumers of energy in the world—by some estimates, it is responsible for more than 90 percent of all U.S. government fuel consumption. The military—the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps—with their tremendous defense responsibilities, accounts for most of that energy use.

That said, the U.S. military is partnering with Southern Company, one of the largest power utilities in the country, and other utilities, to make the move to solar power and help the U.S. become more energy-independent.

To make its domestic military bases more energy resilient, and more secure in the event of a natural disaster or man-made event, the Pentagon wants to move toward energy sources that don't rely on fuel or traditional supply chain methods that supply fuel. It turned to Southern Company, the only electric utility that serves all four branches of the military, to develop innovative energy solutions, both on and off base, particularly in solar power.

Many military bases occupy large parcels of land—prime real estate for solar installations. So far, Southern Company has installed 14 solar power facilities, which generate more than 400 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity, on military bases in the southeast U.S.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, has announced plans for a new 139-MW solar facility to be located on more than 800 acres adjacent to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. It is expected to include more than 500,000 solar panels.

Georgia Power has already built a 31-MW solar power plant at the Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) Albany in its home state. The MCLB solar park comprises some 138,000 photovoltaic (PV) ground-mounted panels.

Another Southern company, Alabama Power, was involved in two renewable energy solar projects in that state, the Fort Rucker and Anniston Army Depot solar fields. Both solar plants are the result of collaboration between the U.S. Army, the respective army installations, and Alabama Power.

The 10-MW project at Fort Rucker comprises more than 115,000 solar panels on 90 acres. The Anniston Army Depot project generates seven megawatts with more than 87,000 solar panels and is also approximately 90 acres. The two projects were built by Stata Solar.

The projects are part of three large-scale energy generation projects being developed on army installations in Alabama and are part of the U.S. Army's commitment to support the development of one gigawatt of new renewable energy and sustainability projects at or near army installations by 2025. The third Alabama project is a 10-MW solar project with a one-MW energy storage system, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

 
 The U.S. military is partnering with Southern Company, one of the largest power utilities in the U.S., and other utilities, to make the move to solar power and help the U.S. become more energy-independent.
  

Energy is key to the resiliency of military installations, say base officials.

"Energy reliability is not one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking of mission success in the army, but when you think about it, the Department of Defense is the largest consumer of energy in the United States government, and the majority of the energy consumed in the army is at the installation level," said Fort Rucker Garrison Commander Col. Shannon Miller at the opening of that base's facility. "So this solar project is the first step toward energy resiliency and to help us continue our mission during long-term grid outages."

The military is also committed to working with Southern Company through the company's subsidiary PowerSecure to bring microgrid technology to bases. Microgrids are miniature power grids that may be connected to a larger grid but can operate independently as needed.

Southern Company says it is working with the Army, Navy, and Air Force on the deployment of microgrid technology.

This past October, the U.S. Air Force, alongside El Paso Electric (EPE), celebrated the completion and commercial operation of the Holloman Atlas Solar Array. The EPE-owned-and-operated solar facility spans 42 acres and is dedicated to serving the Holloman Air Force Base electric load in Otero County, New Mexico.

"The addition of this clean energy resource will enhance our resiliency and ability to better equip our installation while at the same time saving on taxpayer costs. In addition to enhancing our installation, we are reducing our dependence on fossil fuels," said Lt. Col. Joel Purcell, 49th Wing Civil Engineer Squadron, Commander, about the project. "By decreasing this dependence, we are strengthening and increasing our national security."

EPE's newest solar facility is made up of almost 56,000 thin-film modules. Exyte Energy Inc. completed the Holloman Atlas Solar Array and created more than 90 jobs through the duration of the development.

On the supplier side, solar panel producer SunPower has installed, and is under contract to install, more than 100 megawatts of solar power at 33 federal government project sites.

 
The future continues to indicate a clean energy policy for the military, with more branches adopting a net zero energy environment strategy. The Defense Department's goal is to consume 3,000 megawatts from renewable energy sources by 2025. 
  

In 2018, the company completed a 28-MW solar project at Vandenberg Air Force base near Lompoc, California. The project is the largest behind-the-meter solar power system in the Air Force, meaning 100 percent of the energy it produces will be consumed on site. It will produce about 53,000 megawatt hours each year—about 35 percent of Vandenberg's energy needs.

The military's interest extends to power storage. Go Electric Inc., a provider of advanced energy solutions, was awarded a $1.7 million contract to provide a 1MW/1MWh grid-tied battery storage system to the Tooele Army Depot in Tooele, Utah. The Go Electric system serves as a critical component of the facility's self-sufficient microgrid, providing the depot with energy security and resiliency.

The future continues to indicate a clean energy policy for the military, with more branches adopting a net zero energy environment strategy. The Defense Department's goal is to consume 3,000 megawatts from renewable sources by 2025.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is funding ways to do that more efficiently, for all solar power users, including the military.

This past fall, the DOE announced selections for up to $53 million in new projects to advance early-stage solar technologies. Through the Office of Energy Efficiency and the Renewable Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, DOE will fund 53 innovative research projects that will lower solar electricity costs and support a growing solar workforce.

"Innovation is key to solar's continued growth in our nation's energy portfolio. It increases our energy diversity and reinforces our 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. "Developing new skills through workforce training is critical to expanding job opportunities in the renewable sector, which is why we are following through on our program to reach out to military veterans with new projects that will target this committed workforce."

The program includes funding for improving and expanding the solar industry through workforce initiatives: $12.7 million for seven projects that will pursue initiatives to grow and train the solar workforce. These projects will support training and curriculum development at community colleges and advanced training for a more digital electric power system, which includes communications technology. This includes programs to prepare veterans and interested transitioning military personnel to join the solar workforce, building on DOE's pilot program, Solar Ready Vets.

 
 The Department of Energy (DOE) is funding initiatives to help the move to solar power, including for the military. A DOE program includes funding for workforce initiatives and includes programs to prepare veterans and interested transitioning military personnel to join the solar workforce, building on DOE's pilot program, Solar Ready Vets.
  

The DOE has also announced up to $46 million in research funding to advance holistic solutions that provide grid operators the situational awareness and mitigation strategies against cyber and physical threats. With more and more solar generation coming online every day, grid operators need the tools and technologies to ensure that the electric grid is resilient and energy services are delivered to critical infrastructure. These projects will develop and validate control strategies, real-time system monitoring, robust communications, and other technologies to make solar power at the bulk power and distribution levels more resilient.

Approximately 10 projects, varying from $2 million to $10 million in size, will be funded over three years. Applicants are encouraged to work with critical infrastructure owners and operators, including state, local, tribal, and territories to take proactive steps to manage cyber and physical threats to improve the resiliency of solar generated electricity.

A resilient and reliable electricity grid is essential not only to the security of the infrastructure powering the U.S. economy, but also to the everyday lives of all Americans, says the department. The DOE, it says, is committed to improving the affordability of energy technologies and strengthening the nation's ability to withstand disruptions, including cyber threats and natural disasters. Solar power can play a vital role in this regard. Improving situational awareness in strategic locations associated with critical infrastructure can significantly improve the reliability and continuity of service of solar-generated electricity.

In another recent announcement, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Energy Directorate's Program Development division worked together with Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA), Texas, and the Defense Logistics Agency Energy to award an energy savings performance contract valued at nearly $143 million to increase energy resiliency at the Department of Defense's largest joint base.

Ameresco Inc. was awarded the contract to support all areas of JBSA and provide more than $285 million in total cost savings over the 22-year financed term of the contract.

The plan for the project calls for upgrades to approximately 900 buildings across JBSA, totaling more than 14.5 million square feet. Some 20 MW of renewable energy systems, including solar and combined heat/power plants, will be installed, and energy security will be improved through microgrid control systems.

In addition to solar power making a difference on bases, it also has an on-the-ground contribution to make. An example is that soldiers have to haul diesel fuel to run the generators needed to power their equipment and forward bases in areas without access to conventional electricity.

The convoys trucking in that fuel are always at risk of being attacked in combat situations. But now soldiers can pop up a PV system to charge their equipment, meaning fewer convoys are needed, helping troops avoid unnecessary risks.

 


Winter 2019