SunShot Grand Challenge: More US Department of Defense Photovoltaic Projects

A solar photovoltaic (PV) array that looks like an aircraft runway?
Also EMCORE, Nanosolar, Morgan Solar et al.


US Department of Defense (DOD), Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, Dr. Dorothy Robyn mentioned a number of other solar PV projects through the course of her SunShot Grand Challenge keynote presentation.

First, DOD is active in the energy space for mission reasons only: cost and energy security. When combined with advanced microgrids and storage technologies, renewable energy improves the energy security of US military bases. However, DOD can be a technology leader in clean energy adoption by pursuing mission driven strategic goals and self-interest.

DOD assets and energy in a snap shot:

  • Almost 300000 buildings, some unique, but many just like commercial buildings.
  • 29 million acres (11.7 million hectares) of land used for military test and training purposes, half of the land withdrawn from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). 75 threatened and endangered species are only found on DOD installations.
  • Accounts for 1% of total US energy consumption though most is operational and fuel based.
  • Facilities energy costs were $4.1 Billion in Fiscal Year 2011 (FY2011).

The role of permanent military installations has evolved from testing and training to an increasing role in mission assurance by providing direct support for war fighters including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), long range bombers, real time analysis of battlefield data, and staging for humanitarian and homeland defense missions.

Dr. Robyn said:

We are 99% reliant on the commercial power grid, and there is growing concern that reliance on the grid puts certain critical missions at risk.

DOD’s energy strategy focuses on four strategic elements: reducing demand, expanding renewable and other onsite generation, enhanced security of bases, and leveraging advanced technology. A key objective is to maintain mission critical loads even if the commercial grid goes down for an extended period of time. As a result, DOD has committed to deploying 3 GigaWatts of renewable energy by 2025. DOD and the three main services have embraced third party financing of renewable energy projects to leverage tax incentives.

Here are some of the solar installations, projects, or proposals mentioned.

The Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, already home to the largest renewable energy facility in DOD, a 270 MW (MegaWatt) geothermal power plant in operation since 1987, broke ground earlier this year on a 13.78 MW PV facility designed, constructed, operated, and maintained by SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR). The US Navy used 2922a authority to enter into a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with SunPower for up to 30 years, a first for a federal agency.

Another Navy project would install 28 MW of solar PV on installations in Hawaii “including covering the runway on Ford Island with PV, recreating the look of the runway as seen from the air.” Historic preservation issues are still under discussion with regards to the PV runway proposal near the location of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Nellis Air Force Base, already home to a 14.2 MW solar array, is looking to expand further. Dr. Robyn said: “They had plans to double that, and I think they are on hold right now.” Much smaller building rooftop solar installations are proceeding at Nellis.

SunPower also completed a 6 MW project at the United States Air Force Academy last summer. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould said: “The Academy’s vision is to produce 100 percent of its power through renewable resources by 2020.

Edwards Air Force Base is considering a huge 450 MW solar project to be built on fee land instead of BLM withdrawn land.

DOD has privatized about 200000 units of residential family housing across maybe ten developers. Through SolarStrong, SolarCity has partnered with these developers to install, own, and operate 300 MW of rooftop solar on almost 120000 US military housing units at a cost of over $1 Billion. Soaring Heights Communities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside of Tucson, Arizona USA, was the first such project with a combination 6 MW of community solar across ground and roof mounted arrays.

DOD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (
ESTCP) was expanded to include energy with $20 million in ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) stimulus funding and was later renewed and expanded to $30 million annually. DOD is not doing research and development for facilities energy but will use military bases as a distributed test bed for cost effective, high potential technologies needing help to overcome commercialization barriers.

DOD has a long history as an early technology adopter and valued role in “dem-val” (demonstration/validation) of new technologies. Here is a run down of the Installation Energy Test Bed: On-Site Generation PV projects highlighted.

From SunShot Summit and Technology Forum

A 225 kW (kiloWatt) Soliant Concentrating PV (CPV) System is just being installed at NAWS China Lake under:

Concentrating Photo-Voltaic System for DoD Rooftop Installations
Project ID: EW-201146

The SE-1000X Commercial Rooftop CPV system has apparently been increased in size from the original 50 kW and is spearheaded by Electricore, Inc., a non-profit technology consortium, instead of EMCORE Corporation (NASDAQ:EMKR).

Regarding Nanosolar Inc.’s
Grid-Parity Solar Power for Department of Defense Installations Project ID: EW-201134, Dr. Robyn said:

We think it has real promise for grid parity prices, and we are testing that at Camp Roberts in California.

There was an earlier test of that technology at another military base, and we didn’t oversee that. It was the result of, I think, a congressional earmark at a facility in Ohio.

The results were not nearly as good as what’s coming out in California. I think it just goes to show when you do one of these dem-vals, it’s important to do it in the right place. We are very careful working with the services and the different installations to figure out the best place to demonstrate these.

I have to wonder if the difference in performance at Camp Perry is just the lower solar insolation in Ohio and in line with the production estimates covered in The Nanosolar Efficiency and Cost Roadmap.

From SunShot Summit and Technology Forum

At the SunShot Technology Forum, Nanosolar had a 220 Watt or 11.0% efficiency Nanosolar Utility Panel on display per the rating label shown in the photo. Per my discussion with Nanosolar, the 240 Watt or 12.0% Utility Panel is on track for production in the second half of 2012.

From SunShot Summit and Technology Forum

Morgan Solar
Morgan Solar was not mentioned but included in the upper right of the second On-Site Generation slide. No further details or timing have emerged on Morgan Solar’s
100kW Scalable Sun Simba HCPV Demonstration on DoD Lands Project ID: EW-201249. However, the competition for these DOD awards is rigorous and only a handful of applications were selected from some 500 plus applications.

From SunShot Summit and Technology Forum

Cogenra Solar’s project, Solar Cogeneration of Electricity and Hot Water at DoD Installations Project ID: EW-201248, was also among the four new on-site generation demonstration projects chosen for FY2012.

The DOD does seem to have a thing for the high energy density of CPV especially if I was right about the two (2) 1 MW SUNPATH related projects.

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