Solar energy reduces military costs, boosts security, saves lives


The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released a first-of-its-kind report that details how innovative solar technologies are helping the U.S. military meet many critical functions from security and battlefield readiness to cost savings and efficiency.

Powering the U.S. military with solar energy shows solar energy’s growing role in powering military installations and military homes across the U.S. As of early 2013, more than 130 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems were powering Navy, Army and Air Force bases in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia.

Solar energy is playing an increasingly important role in making the U.S. military’s energy supply more secure, more affordable and less reliant on often unstable foreign sources.

“America’s solar companies, which employ nearly 120,000 workers from coast to coast, are very proud of the contributions they’re making to help the men and women of the U.S. military to defend our nation,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “Solar clearly is making a big difference both on the front lines and in military installations from North Carolina to Hawaii. Many of the technologies being used by the military today have been adapted for use from consumer products.”

In Afghanistan, for instance, U.S. troops in battle zones are using everything from portable solar panels to solar tent shields to cutting-edge, solar-powered security systems to help them carry out critical missions.

In recent years, the Pentagon has become increasingly concerned about an overdependence on fossil fuels. Today the military buys gas for just more than $1 a gallon, but getting that gasoline to forward bases in Afghanistan costs more than $400 per gallon.

By using more solar energy, military leaders say, they are saving money and potentially saving lives, too, because solar helps reduce the number of truck convoys needed to transport fuel, which are frequently the targets of attacks by insurgents or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). During the past decade, there have been more than 3,300 U.S. casualties as a result of attacks on fuel convoys.

“The Defense Department is one of the largest institutional users of solar energy in the world,” Resch said. “After using solar energy on military bases and in the field, many returning servicemen and servicewomen are finding great career opportunities at solar firms, which have been actively recruiting veterans. Many other veterans have started firms of their own.”

In addition to its operational uses, solar energy is helping the Department of Defense (DOD) rein in its massive energy bills. As the largest energy consumer in the world, the DOD faces a $20 billion energy bill each year. In response to increasing energy needs and shrinking budgets, the DOD has committed to meet 25 percent of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025. The Navy, Army and Air Force are implementing aggressive plans that are increasing investments in solar, which is expected to encourage more innovation within the industry.

The U.S. has 7,700 MW of installed solar electric capacity — enough to power more than 1.2 million U.S. homes — and 40 percent of our existing capacity, or 3,300 MW, was installed last year, making solar one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation. The U.S. solar industry employs nearly 120,000 workers at 5,600 companies — most of which are small businesses spread across every state.

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