by John Brian Shannon | March 31, 2012
With zero capital investment and giving up only otherwise unusable land, the Navy will reduce costs by saving an estimated $13 million over the next 20 years on their NAWS China Lake electricity bill by paying a discounted rate for electricity.
The first solar panels ever installed were photovoltaic solar panels mounted on military satellites and blasted into space from Cape Kennedy, Florida during the 1960′s. Many of those old but reliable photovoltaic solar-powered satellites are still up there sending us information.
Q: What has this to do with the U.S. military now installing solar panels at exponential rates on its bases you ask?
As the production of solar panels have ramped up, prices have dropped dramatically. In fact, prices have dropped so quickly that some solar manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy due to their inability to stay with the market. Lower-priced materials, manufacturing and technology have all conspired to force a huge price drop.
Faced with budget cuts and the need to lower long-term costs the U.S. Navy has turned to an old, but reliable partner – solar power.
In October 2010 the Navy set a goal to produce 50% of its onshore energy needs from renewables by 2020.
For one example of this, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) complex in San Diego, has installed 1.3 megawatts of solar panels at the Navy’s headquarters for high tech military command, communications and surveillance.
SPAWAR now has the U.S. Navy’s largest contiguous rooftop solar array with 5,376 high-performance SolarWorld photovoltaic solar panels providing electricity for the site.
Any surplus electricity generated on-site is to be sold to the San Diego grid.
For another example, US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWS China Lake) in California, is installing an entire photovoltaic solar power plant which is to be financed through a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) between SunPower and the US Navy.
Under the terms of the agreement the Navy has no upfront costs. The plant is expected to produce 13.78 megawatts of power and cover 30 percent of NAWS China Lake’s energy needs.
With zero capital investment and giving up only unusable land, the Navy will reduce costs by saving an estimated $13 million over the next 20 years on their NAWS China Lake electricity bill.
President Obama in his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012 said;
“…the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”
Beginning in 1999, the U.S. military has installed solar power systems at many bases, including Nellis Air Force Base, Pearl Harbor, Fort Dix, Coronado Island, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, among others.
The US Air Force is getting into the photovoltaic solar power business too — making the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s Top 25 list of Green Power Partners on Jan. 31, 2012 — as one of the leading buyers of green power in America.
At it’s Colorado Springs Air Force Academy, a 6 megawatt PV solar power plant is operating (watch video) with additions to generation capacity already underway.
The vast United States military often sets tone and precedent for the rest of the country and this is the case with solar energy. Cities and utility companies have taken careful note of the power purchase agreement (PPA) model used by the Navy and the Air Force in their dealings with utility companies and many more such agreements are pending.
For a non-military example, the clearest case for solar power is made in Boulder City, Nevada, which has negotiated an outstanding $12 million per year PPA agreement to lease 8000 acres of City land for solar power plant use. This photovoltaic power plant when completed, will produce 1400 megawatts of electricity.
Two solar companies doing business there have paid a total of $8.5 million dollars in advance — as a non-refundable down payment towards the leased lands project. A third company involved in a solar leasing opportunity presented a non-refundable check for $500,000 to the Boulder City council so it could upgrade city provided services.
Until now, Boulder City’s financial picture hasn’t been all that good. It’s 2011 municipal budget was roughly $25 million and it is $96.2 million in debt. However, an additional 12 million per year for the leased land (a total of $480 million dollars over the term of the contract) will allow it to pay off it’s debts and thrive.
The U.S. military, led by the Navy and the Air Force have developed an exciting and fully-transferable photovoltaic solar (PPA) model — one that might have the Sun working for us in ways we never before imagined.
Who would’ve thought that our Sun would help pay our bills, pay off City debt, and provide discounted electricity to leaseholders and landowners?
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the state of California is going from 524 megawatts of public utility installed solar (as of January 2012) to 18,231 megawatts of public utility installed solar power within five years.
This number does not include solar power installations under 1 megawatt.