Jun 14, 2016

Solar Power in the U.S. Military

By Bobby Shields

I am a Notre Dame grad and current Masters candidate in Security Policy at George Washington University. I study cyber security and energy security policy, with an interest in how renewable energy can affect U.S. national security. Andrew and I became friends soon after I arrived in DC in 2013. I've always enjoyed reading his blog and hearing his insights about solar over dinner at Keren Restaurant. Below is a short article summarizing my recent research on the topic of solar power in the U.S. military. Feel free to email me at rshields1@gwu.edu if you have any feedback!

Tim Bolger wrote about clean
energy and the military in
Sept. 2013--source
In August 2015, the U.S. Navy signed a deal to purchase power from a 150 megawatt solar farm in Arizona to help provide power to 14 military installations in California, making it the largest renewable energy purchase by the U.S. government to date. This deal adds to the U.S. military’s growing list of solar power projects, as the Defense Department races to make solar a staple of its energy portfolio.

Federal initiatives have fueled the U.S. military’s “solar surge.” Title 10 USC § 2910 mandates that the Defense Department consume at least 25% of its facility energy—equating to 3 gigawatts of energy— from renewable resources by 2025. The Obama administration’s recent Clean Power Plan regulates the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in each state. These mandates have prompted the U.S. military to partner with state utilities and independent power producers to implement solar energy projects. As of 2013, the military has allocated billions of dollars to establish more than 130 megawatts of solar energy systems powering military bases in at least 31 states and the District of Columbia. The military has also invested in small-scale solar technologies for operational environments, including solar blankets and tents.

By aggressively incorporating solar energy into its energy planning, the Defense Department is (1) combating climate change; (2) strengthening its energy security; (3) and enhancing its operational mission capabilities in remote locations.

See more about the additions here
First, the U.S. military’s solar projects can help combat climate change. Being the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, the Defense Department’s solar energy pursuits can significantly reduce the U.S. government’s carbon footprint. Moreover, mitigating climate change contributes to the U.S. military’s mission. According to a 2007 Defense Department report, climate change “poses a serious threat to America’s national security…acts as a threat multiplier for instability…[and] will add tensions eve in stable regions of the world.” The U.S. military thus has a national security interest in investing in solar energy to help tackle climate change.

Second, solar energy projects strengthen the U.S. military’s energy security. U.S. military installations are vulnerable to electrical grid disruptions from natural hazards, and physical or cyber attacks. Solar energy technologies can diversify military installations’ energy sources and increase the scope of onsite power generation to hedge against these electrical grid disruptions. Solar energy technologies thus add to the resiliency of military installations and help ensure continuity of operations.  

Third, solar-powered facilities and equipment help military personnel meet mission objectives in remote locations. Lightweight and portable solar energy technologies provide a reliable alternative to power generators, which require costly and dangerous fuel resupply and storage. These technologies are already being deployed: U.S. Marines used portable solar panels and solar tent shields in a battle zone in Afghanistan’s Khyber Pass. The Defense Department will continue to fund research for flexible, lightweight solar panels for remote site generation in tactical battlefield applications.


The future is bright for solar energy use in the military. The Defense Department’s large purse and 25% renewable mandate will help lead the U.S. government’s push for solar power research and implementation. Solar power can even lead the way to future innovations such as microgrids—self-sustaining, islanded grid units—at military bases. In fact, the U.S. Army has spearheaded development of a microgrid that employs solar and other energy sources in Fort Bliss, Texas. Initiatives like this can make the military a leading figure in solar energy.