The military’s influence on clean power

It is no secret that the US military is interested in clean power generation. The Department of Defense has the largest energy usage in the country. As such, they are interested in using clean energy both to offset their energy usage and allow for off-grid energy generation.

U.S. military strategies are often cloaked in secrecy, but the American military’s very public plan to use more clean power offers a bright spot for solar companies, from tech startups to project developers. It’s not just on the rooftops of military facilities, but soldiers on the battlefield are interested in clean power technologies as a strategic tool for off-grid, light-weight combat.

In his plan to fight climate change last week, President Obama reiterated how the Department of Defense, the largest energy use in the country, plans to install 3 GW of clean power at its facilities by 2025. At the same time, over in New Mexico, SolarCity recently installed solar panels on 600 military homes as part of its larger, 5-year plan to put solar panels on roughly 120,000 military homes across the country, the California company said Wednesday.

The ability to be self-sustainable is not only a financial investment and environmentally friendly, it is also a benefit to strategy. By being able to generate, and store, power, the military can work without interruption because of utility or infrastructure issues.

The military also embraces the concept of the microgrid, which involves installing power generation equipment and storage to create a self-sustaining electricity network within a base. The goal is to be able to run the base operation when there is a blackout or other problem with the grid managed by the local utilities. “Every single military base in the U.S. plans to create a microgrid,” said Peter Asmus, an analyst with Navigant Research, explaining, “They don’t want to be at the mercy of utilities, in a war or in a  storm.”

The Army inaugurated its first microgrid at Fort Bliss, Texas, in May this year. The $2.4 million pilot project produces solar power and comes with energy storage to bank the solar electricity when it’s not needed. The project is only powering part of the base.

The military also is supporting solar power projects even if they are not designed to be part of any microgrid. As of early this year, over 130 MW of solar panels had been installed at military bases in at least 31 states, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The military’s push toward clean energy technologies is a good sign, not only for the environment, but for the future of clean energy generation and storage at the consumer level.

Having the military and defense industry in its corner, is a major boon for the clean power companies and project developers. In a market where clean power can be more expensive than fossil fuel power in some areas, a customer of the size of the military can help bring down the cost of solar by buying and installing it at scale.

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