According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Office of Installations and the Environment, the agency’s enormous landholdings in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of California, across four military installations, hold enough suitable space to generate 7,000 megawatts (MW) of solar energy.
The release is based on a year-long study, conducted by ICF International on behalf of the DoD -- and in response to a congressional report -- and covers seven military bases in California (Fort Irwin, China Lake, Chocolate Mountain, Edwards, Barstow, Twentynine Palms and El Centro) and two in Nevada (Creech and Nellis).
Researchers, noting that 96 percent of the surface area of the military installations evaluated was deemed “unsuitable for solar energy” as a result of military usage, terrain problems, cultural resource conflicts, and biological resource conflicts (for example, critical habitat for endangered species), still managed to extract more than 30,000 acres which were suitable.
This means that a mere one percent of the area in question could provide a whopping 7 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, or as much as provided by seven nuclear power plants, and do so through public/private partnerships where private developers would not have to meet DoD requirements for capital investments (as mandated under the stimulus).
These seven gigawatts could supplant the roughly 233 MW of energy use across the four relevant California bases and leave enough left over, about 6815 MW, to supply about 780,000 California households.
The study highlights a drive by the DoD to develop solar and other distributed energy resources on its bases. The aim is to reduce the Defense Department’s annual $4 billion energy bill and to make the supporting facilities less dependent on the grid. This insures energy security in the event of a natural disaster or other event, especially when combined with renewable energy storage and distributed energy (smart-microgrid) technologies.
Most of the suitable terrain is divided between Edwards, Fort Irwin and China Lake, and could bring the DoD up to $100 million per year either in rental revenues or via the purchase of discounted power from developed systems, or some combination of the two.
The main issues to development are management and transmission capacity. Using less than half the available land would still result in enough renewable energy to meet the DoD’s renewable energy goals of 25 percent of energy by 2025, as laid out by the the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.
The technologies used in the study included: crystalline solar photovoltaic (PV) with and with without trackers (the lion’s share of total potential production, at about 10 GW); solar thin-film PV, also with and without trackers; dish/Stirling engine concentrating solar power (CSP); and parabolic trough CSP.
The CSP options were low on the evaluation totem pole, largely for economic reasons, primarily because of its lower rates of return than PV. The trough option received a zero, presumably because the towers might interfere with military flights, communications, radar, or other visual or infrared spectra operations.
The DoD continues to lead the push toward more and better renewable energy technologies, investing $1.2 billion between 2006 and 2009, according to a Pew Research Center report. The DoD is also one of the largest institutional energy users in the world.
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