The US Navy has switched on its largest solar system so far, a 13.78-megawatt (MW) array in California that will help the agency shave an estimated $13 million off its power bill over the next two decades.
The installation will generate about a third of the electricity at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake. The Navy will pay for the energy through a 20-year power purchase agreement – a first for a federal agency.
It consists of SunPower’s modular solar and tracking panels, which optimize land use.
So far, SunPower has installed more than 50 MW of solar for the Navy and US Air Force – systems that generate enough power for 9,000 homes. Those installations alone will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (C02) emitted by the associated facilities by almost 732,000 tons over the next 20 years – equal to the emissions associated with burning 1.5 million barrels of oi, says SunPower.
“Changes in energy policy have provided countless opportunities throughout all operations of the DoD, with examples of renewable energy projects that include targets of 1 GW of renewable energy installed capacity each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force by 2025, a target of 25% of all energy produced or procured from renewable energy sources by 2025, and development of the Navy’s Great Green Fleet Strike Group powered by biofuel, nuclear power, synthetic fuels, and hybrid propulsion systems,” says Dexter Gauntlett, a Pike research analyst. “Most of these initiatives have gained considerable momentum and many of the targets will be achieved.”
While significant cost and reliability hurdles remain, technology cost reductions and the use of power purchase agreemenets and leasing arrangements will support investments in solar PV, biomass, wind, and geothermal power.
Project SolarStrong, an initiative to blanket 124 military housing developments with 160,000 rooftop solar installations, is an example of how financing is helping the DoD move forward with clean energy investments.
Although the military’s clean energy investments have drawn criticism from conservative Republicans, the DoD sees clean energy as crucial for energy security and for reducing its $4 billion annual electricity budget.
Its strategy includes considering up to 16 million acres of military land for renewable energy projects. Over the summer, the US Air Force issued a request for proposals for up to $7 billion in contracts to purchase "reliable, locally generated renewable and alternative energy."