Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!
When it comes to high energy consumption, it’s hard to find a bigger consumer than the U.S. military. The numbers are staggering.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) uses enough electricity to power more than 2.6 million average U.S. homes and burns 4.6 billion gallons of liquid fossil fuels annually. What’s more is the level of dependence and vulnerability of the organization’s energy security. When prices go up, the military faces astronomical energy costs.
But military organizations are renowned for their ability to respond to a problem with a robust strategy — and that’s just what the DOD has been doing to address energy costs and security.
Sustainability and renewable energy are cornerstones of the DOD’s energy strategy. After years of gradual increases in the use of LEED standards, the U.S. Army has officially adopted a new standard for sustainability and green building practices.
“We are on a path to integrating energy and sustainability considerations into our fundamental way of thinking as we progress toward net-zero energy, water and waste in buildings and installations” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and the environment (IE&E).
But can an energy consumer like the military be seriously considering a net-zero energy policy? It seems an impossible stretch at best or an unachievable fantasy at worst. But the DOD has vast undeveloped assets for energy production. Solar energy potential is foremost among those assets.
The DOD recently released the results of a yearlong study that shows nine military bases in California and Nevada have space available to generate 7,000 megawatts of electric power — the equivalent of seven nuclear power plants! The footprint for these installations is a mere 1 percent of the total available space at these facilities. What’s more, converting this 1 percent of available space to solar power production will not interfere with base missions and will not endanger critical wildlife habitat.
If 1 percent of the footprint from nine installations in the southwest can replace seven nuclear power plants, the DOD strategy of net-zero energy seems not only plausible, but very possible.
We have witnessed a free-fall in solar electric prices in recent years. 2011 alone saw a 50 percent drop in the cost of solar electric panels. Observers say that there is no end in sight for the decline in solar prices, so with ever-increasing cost and security issues from traditional energy sources, the DOD seems poised to set an example for other organizations by transitioning to more solar.
I look forward to the day the U.S. can pride itself not only on its military strategies, but also on the energy and sustainability strategies of its military.