Defense Department Studies Solar Energy Potential at Desert Bases

February 01, 2012

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) could generate 7,000 megawatts (MW) of solar energy on four military bases located in the California desert, according to a DOD study. The yearlong study, released on January 13, looked at seven military bases in California and two in Nevada. It found that while most of the surface area is unsuited for solar development because of military use and other factors, the suitable sites are large enough to generate more than 30 times the electricity consumed by the California bases. That would equal about 25% of the renewable energy that California requires utilities to use by 2015.

The study concludes that 25,000 acres are suitable for solar development, and another 100,000 acres are "likely" or "questionably" suitable for solar. According to the study, the most economically viable acreage is found at Edwards Air Force Base (24,327 acres), followed by Fort Irwin (18,728 acres), China Lake (6,777 acres), and Twentynine Palms (553 acres). Finally, the study finds that private developers can tap the solar potential on these installations with no capital investment requirement from DOD, and that the development could yield the federal government up to $100 million a year in revenue or other benefits such as discounted power.

DOD is seeking to develop solar, wind, geothermal, and other distributed energy sources on its bases to reduce both their $4 billion-a-year energy bill and their dependency on the commercial electricity grid. Such on-site energy generation, together with energy storage and so-called smart-microgrid technology, would allow a military base to maintain its critical operations "off-grid" for weeks or months if the grid were disrupted. See the DOD press release.