The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has released a report detailing how solar technologies are helping the U.S. military meet many of its critical functions – from security and battlefield readiness to cost savings and efficiency.
According to the report, as of early 2013, there are more than 130 MW of solar photovoltaic energy systems powering Navy, Army and Air Force bases in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia.
"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," says Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.
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 successfully carry out missions, SEIA says.
In recent years, the Pentagon has become increasingly concerned about an overdependence on fossil fuels. According to the report, the military buys gas for just over $1 a gallon, but getting that gasoline to forward bases in Afghanistan costs more than $400 per gallon.
By utilizing more solar energy, military leaders say they are not only saving money, but also potentially saving lives, since solar is helping to reduce the number of truck convoys needed to transport fuel, which are frequently the targets of attacks by insurgents or improvised explosive devices. The report says there have been more than 3,300 U.S. casualties as a result of attacks on fuel convoys over the past decade.
"Today, the Defense Department is one of the largest institutional users of solar energy in the world," Resch adds." 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 the technology's operational uses, the report says solar energy is helping the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to 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% of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025, SEIA notes.