Navigating By The Sun: DoD Takes Lead On Solar

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has a long-standing tradition of accelerating technological innovation, serving as early adopters and impacting the broader commercial market in areas such as aviation, computing and GPS. For the past several years, the DoD has been playing this role in the renewable energy space. In fact, The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that the DoD clean energy investments increased 300 percent between 2006 and 2009, from $400 million to $1.2 billion. Projections for 2030 are set to eclipse $10 billion annually 1, with an overall target of obtaining 25 percent of the DoD’s energy from renewable sources by 2025.2

Driven by climate change and the need for energy security, the DoD’s plans maximize effectiveness during military, disaster relief and humanitarian engagements. As initiatives unfold, the DoD will serve as a laboratory, laying the groundwork for adoption of new ideas for optimizing efficiency and creating “zero energy” environments (consuming as much energy as they generate).

Efficiencies gained from a greater reliance on solar energy have the potential to create energy independence, shrink risks for military personnel in the field, reduce the DoD’s carbon footprint and drive clean-energy innovation in the U.S.

The Challenges

As this large-scale mission unfolds, the DoD will have a direct influence on national security and the health of the U.S. economy. Strategies are shaped around overcoming two critical challenges: energy usage and strategic vulnerability.

Energy Usage

The DoD is a massive energy spender, with Deloitte reporting a 175-percent increase in gallons of fuel consumed per U.S. soldier per day since the Vietnam conflict.3 The DoD spends nearly $4 billion a year on powering the 300,000 buildings on its installations.4

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, the DoD spent $13.2 billion on energy for fixed installation, equipment and vehicle fuels.5 Federal government energy goals have mandated energy reduction of 30 percent by 2015, with electric energy consumption from renewable energy increased to no less than 7.5 percent beginning FY 2013.6

The DoD’s energy portfolio includes the energy used at military installations around the world and energy used by military forces executing their operational responsibilities, such as fueling ships, ground vehicles and airplanes. It’s costly to acquire, manage, transport, protect and consume fuel at this level. The true cost of fuel use ranges from $10 to almost $400 per gallon depending on distance and delivery method.7

This level of dependence threatens energy security and inhibits military personnel from moving freely, which puts constraints on strategic decision-making. In fact, an overwhelming percent of ground supply chain movements for current U.S. military operations are dedicated to moving fuel—a tremendous logistical burden and major vulnerability for attack.8

Strategic Vulnerability

At its current pace of consumption, the DoD is paying too great a cost in lives, expense and compromised capability in response to three major forces:

Climate Change: The Pentagon has ranked global warming as a destabilizing force and advised military strategists to stay abreast of climate science and factor global warming into their long-term planning. Heat waves and catastrophic storms put more pressure on the military to respond to humanitarian crises or natural disaster. Also, many U.S. bases are threatened by rising sea levels.10 In particular, bases on the East Coast are especially vulnerable to frequent and powerful hurricanes. If sea levels were to rise by one meter, Norfolk, Virginia—an important base of the U.S. Navy—would be flooded.11 While climate change alone is not likely to lead to future conflict, it may be an influence. Climate change is affecting, and will continue to affect, U.S. military installations and access to natural resources worldwide.12

Oil Dependence: In 2011, the Center for Naval Analysis’ Military Advisory Board called for “immediate, swift and aggressive action” over the next decade to reduce U.S. oil consumption 30 percent in the next ten years, stating that U.S. dependence on oil constitutes a significant threat to the economy, global leadership position, environment and military. Even a small interruption of the daily oil supply impacts the nation’s economic engine, but a sustained disruption has the potential to alter essential economic elements, from food costs and distribution to manufacturing goods and services, and freedom of movement.13

Global oil supply instability also plays an important role, with the need for fuel-independence becoming more imperative every year. The Energy Information Administration predicts imported oil consumed by the U.S. will decline minimally in the next two decades—to 53 percent in 2020 and 56 percent by 2030.14 As the global demand for oil increases, competition for these supplies will increase.

The value of oil at risk around the world is high, and a major disruption is an ongoing threat. One study estimated a 25-percent probability that one substantial disruption would occur at a chokepoint before 2014.15 Chokepoints (narrow channels along widely used global sea routes) are a critical part of global energy security due to the high volume of oil traded through these narrow straits.

Fragile Electricity Grid: Of the DoD’s electric energy infrastructure, 99 percent is commercially owned.17 Widespread disruption of electric service can quickly undermine the U.S. government, national security, military operations and the economy, as well as endanger the health and safety of millions of citizens.18

The DoD relies on diesel generators for back-up but, typically, these generators are oversized, poorly maintained, dedicated to only one building or facility and cannot share power with other buildings. Additionally, many of these generators have demonstrated low reliability in time of emergency. 19

In short, the DoD faces the same reliability and fuel issues as the civilian sector: aging infrastructure and grids that are susceptible to terrorist attacks and natural disasters. In the event of a large-scale power disruption, fuel resupply on military installations could be seriously compromised because of competing demand for fuel distribution.20

Finding Solutions, Driving Innovation

ESTCP: The DoD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) includes 27 “test bed” projects to test, evaluate and scale up new and innovative energy technology. This is an effort to reduce the $4 billion cost of powering its facilities and improve security.21 The programs main areas include:

  • smart micro grids and energy storage at installations
  • advanced component technologies to improve building energy efficiency
  • advanced building energy management and control technologies
  • tools and process for design, assessment and decision-making associated with energy use and management and technologies for renewable energy generation

Under this program, Skyline Solar, a concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) company, has broken ground on solar power plants at two military bases: Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California and Fort Bliss in Texas. Skyline Solar is using CPV technology, which differs from standard rooftop solar panels in that it uses an optical system to concentrate the sun’s energy onto photovoltaic cells. Fort Bliss, which spans more than one million acres of land in West Texas and New Mexico, is one of several bases moving forward with plans to be “net zero.”

Cogenra Solar, provider of distributed solar cogeneration systems, was chosen by the ESTCP for a $2 million contract for two military sites. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Army facilities were selected for diverse building types, climates and hot water usage to expedite adoption of solar cogeneration at other DoD sites. Producing hot water and electricity, the installations will be evaluated throughout the year for high energy production and cost effectiveness of the technology for military applications.22

These test beds let the DoD evaluate technical validity, cost and the environmental impact of new technologies, while serving as an important bridge between research and deployment. In addition, the DoD has initiated other projects:

SPIDERS: A three-phase, $30 million, multi-agency project known as the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS), is focused on reducing risks by building smarter, more secure and robust microgrids that incorporate renewable energy. The goal for SPIDERS is to provide secure control of on-base generation. If a disruption to the commercial utility power grid occurs, a secure microgrid can isolate from the grid and provide backup power to ensure continuity of mission-critical loads. The microgrid can allow time for the commercial utility to restore service and coordinate reconnection when service is stabilized. A smart, cyber-secure microgrid allows renewable energy sources to stay connected and run in coordination with diesel generators.23

Mojav and Colorado Deserts: A recent study determined that the DoD could generate 7,000 MW of solar energy—equivalent to the output of seven nuclear power plants—on military bases located in California’s Mojave and Colorado deserts.24 The area is large enough to generate more than 30 times the electricity consumed by the California bases, or about 25 percent of the renewable energy that the State of California requires utilities to use by 2015.25

The DoD plans to develop solar, wind, geothermal and other distributed energy sources on its bases. The combination of on-site energy generation, energy storage and smart-microgrid technology would allow a military base to keep critical operations “off-grid” for weeks or months in the case of grid disruption. This presents an opportunity to reduce a $4 billion-a-year energy bill and create a level of independence from the commercial electricity grid.26 Furthermore, the study determined that private developers could tap the solar potential on these installations with no capital investment requirement from the DoD. The development could potentially net up to $100 million a year in revenue or other benefits, such as discounted power.27

Nellis Air Force Base: At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the Air Force finished installing more than 70,000 solar panels on 140 acres of unused land in December of 2009. The solar panels, called “trackers,” follow the movement of the sun and are connected to the base electrical grid, saving the military roughly $83,000 on its monthly electric bill.28 The Air Force is also investigating green power, including ice storage systems that freeze water at night and then melt it to cool buildings throughout the day.29

Clark Energy Group and Acciona: The Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) program enables commercial companies to fund, build, and operate projects in exchange for long-term leases of Army land. This program’s first renewable energy project is the Fort Irwin Solar EUL partnership with Clark Energy Group and Acciona Solar Power to build a solar electric power plant with a potential for 1,000+ MW of solar power, making it the largest renewable energy project in the DoD’s history.31

The DoD’s clean energy initiatives seek to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, including greater reliance on more efficient generators and centralized power. Each branch of the military has developed energy-efficiency strategies based on their particular needs:33

The Navy and Marine Corps are developing experimental forward-operating bases that use small-scale water purification, energy-efficient lighting and photovoltaic energy harvesting to reduce the need to transport fuel and water over long distances.

The Air Force—the DoD’s largest energy consumer—is modifying how it flies its aircraft, changing aircraft altitudes and routes and optimizing aircraft loading, which is predicted to save over $500 million in fuel.

The Navy is executing a range of initiatives in ship coatings, propulsion options, a hybrid-electric drive and a new amphibious ship that is dramatically more efficient. By 2016 the Navy plans to deploy a “Great Green Fleet” powered entirely by alternative fuels.

The Army’s installation energy programs include efforts to reduce energy consumption on bases, find ways to lower environmental impact, and implement innovative approaches for reducing energy consumption.

Being Part of the Solution: Investment Opportunities

The DoD’s budget for energy security initiatives has risen from $400 million to $1.2 billion in the past four years, and market experts project steadily increased expenditures for energy innovation activities in the coming years.34 But flawed incentives impede investment in energy efficiency for two main reasons.35

The first user bears significant costs but gets the same return as followers, which is problematic for new technologies intended to improve energy efficiency in a retrofit market.

The DoD does not have an enterprise-wide energy information management system that can provide the appropriate information on energy consumption at various levels of aggregation, including individual building, installation, geographic region and military department. This hampers the DoD’s ability to monitor, measure, manage and maintain energy systems at their optimal performance levels; collect renewable energy generation and performance data; and compare performance across facilities and departments.

The DoD is investing more to improve the energy profile of its fixed installations, with financing from annually appropriated funds, including military construction, operations and maintenance, and the Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP). In addition, it has used third-party financing through Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) and Utilities Energy Service Contracts (UESCs). The DoD is also pursuing other innovative financing approaches, such EULs and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

The DOD’S Fundemental Investment Strategy Seeks To: Reduce demand for traditional energy through conservation and energy efficiency; and increase supply of renewable and other alternative energy sources. Investments that curb demand are the most cost-effective way to improve an installation’s energy profile.


Driven by climate change and the need for energy security, the DoD’s energy effectiveness and efficiency plans are designed to maximize military performance and personnel safety.

As the single largest consumer of energy in the United States, the DoD is in a position to introduce innovative, clean energy solutions on a large scale. Indeed, the DoD is navigating and pioneering much of the progress made in this sector. By leading the way, they will create potential for curbing staggering energy costs and optimizing the nation’s overall defense strategy.

These new policies will help to eliminate hesitation in the mainstream marketplace, leading to accelerated innovation and the creation of new and profitable markets. By maintaining its current trajectory, the DoD will increase demand for partnerships, private sector financing and a considerable influx of investment dollars into leading-edge research, technology and business practices.

For the solar energy world, the DoD’s energy conservation investment program adds credibility to the conversation and helps the military increase power reliability, lessen its need for diesel fuel and reduce its carbon footprint. SPW

By: Rebecca “Becky” Halstead, Brigadier General (retired) and Michael Gorton, CEO and Chairman, Principal Solar






Rebecca “Becky” Halstead is currently CEO/Founder of STEADFAST Leadership, a leader consultancy company. Becky is an inspirational speaker, consultant and advisor. She served in the U.S. Army for 27 years, leading over 20,000 soldiers and 5,000 civilians in Iraq, and commanding eight out of her last 11 years in the Army. She provides logistics and leadership expertise to the Principal Solar team







Michael Gorton is an entrepreneur, mentor and company builder, applying proven strategies in the fields of renewable energy, telecommunications, music and healthcare. Drawing on his extensive business expertise, scientific education and training, Michael serves as a strong voice and proponent of solar power.


1. Montgomery, Christopher M.; U.S. military charts aggressive growth in renewable energy; Association of Corporate Counsel; September 28, 2011; exology+daily+newsfeed&utm_medium=html+email+-+body+-+federal+section&utm_campaign=lexology+subscriber+dail y+feed&utm_content=lexology+daily+newsfeed+2011-10-05&utm_term=; accessed January 19, 2012.
2. Montgomery; September 28, 2011.
3. Deloitte; Energy Security, America’s Best Defense; Documents/AD/us_ad_EnergySecurity052010.pdf; accessed February 27, 2012.
4. SERDP; Department of Defense Announces New Installation Energy Technology Demonstrations for FY 2012; November 18, 2011;; accessed January 19, 2012.
5. Army Energy Program; January 4, 2012.
6. Army Energy Program; Renewable Energy; January 4, 2012;; accessed January 19, 2012.
7. IBM For the Business of Government; Reduce Energy Use: A New Paradigm – Energy for the Warfighter; July 27, 2011; http://; accessed February 28, 2012.
8. IBM; July 27, 2011.
9. Lovins, Amory B.; The THE DOD’s Energy Challenge as Strategic Opportunity; NDU Press; 2010; images/jfq-57/lovins.pdf; accessed February 28, 2012.
10. Goldenberg, Suzanne; Pentagon to rank global warming as destabilising force The Guardian; January 31, 2010;; accessed February 27, 2012.
11. Environmental and Energy Study Institute; Climate Change Impacts and National Security; July 2010; climate_security_072810.pdf; accessed March 2, 2012.
12. Department of the Navy memorandum; Navy Climate Change Roadmap; May 21, 2010; documents/CCR.pdf; accessed February 27, 2012.
13. Femia, Francesco, Werrell, Caitlin; Military Advisory Board: Oil Dependency Achilles Heel of U.S. National Security;The Center for Climate and Security; November 7, 2011;; accessed March 2, 2012.
14. Zablocki, Curtis; Crafting the Department of Defense Energy Strategy; United States Airforce Reserve; 2010.
15. Komiss, William, Huntzinge, LaVar; The Economic Implications of of Disruptions of Maritime Oil Chokepoints; CAN; March 2011; Maritime%20Oil%20Chokepoints%20D0024669%20A1.pdf; accessed February 28, 2012.
16.; World Oil Transit Chokepoints; March 5, 2011;; accessed March 2, 2012.
17. Tilford, Robert; Electric grid vulnerabilities present risks to U.S. defense assets; Examiner; February 4, 2012; http://www.; accessed February 28, 2012.
18. Tilford; February 4, 2012.
19. Asmus, Peter; The Promise (and Perils) of Government Microgrid Markets; Pike Research blog; February 25, 2011; http://www.; accessed February 27, 2012.
20. Stockton, Paul; Testimony of the Honorable Paul Stockton Assistant Secretary of Defense Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs Department of Defense Before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power The Committee on Energy and Commerce United States House of Representatives; May 31, 2011; http://democrats.energycommerce.; accessed February 28, 2012.
21. SERPD; Department of Defense Announces New Installation Energy Technology Demonstrations for FY 2012; November 18, 2011;; accessed February 27, 2012.
22. Cogenra Solar; November 29, 2011.
23. Sandia National Laboratories; SPIDERS microgrid project secures military installations; February 22, 2012; https://share.sandia. gov/news/resources/news_releases/spiders/; accessed February 27, 2012.
24. SERDP; The DoD Study Finds 7,000 Megawatts of Solar Energy Potential on The DoD Installations in Mojave Desert; January 13, 2012; DoD-study-finds-7-000- megawatts-of-solar-energy-potential-on-The DoD-installations-in-Mojave-Desert; accessed February 27, 2012.
25. SERDP; January 13, 2012.
26. SERDP; January 13, 2012.
27. SERDP; January 13, 2012.
28. Mulrine; Anna; How the U.S. Military is Trying to Cut Its Enormous Energy Appetite; US News and World Report; March 16, 2009;; accessed February 27, 2012.
29. Mulrine; March 16, 2009.
30. Nellis Airforce Base PowerTracker;; accessed March 2, 2012.
31. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Fort Irwin Solar Energy Enhanced Use Lease (EUL); irwinpressconference/Fort%20Irwin%20Solar%20Energy%20-%20Press%20Kit%20-%20FINAL.pdf; accessed January 19, 2012
32. Randazzo, Ryan; Defense Department Seeks Energy Advantage; USA Today; February 16, 2012; USCP/PNI/Business/2012-02-16-PNI0216biz-energy-defensePNIBrd_ST_U.htm; accessed February 27, 2012.
33. Pellerin, Cheryl; U.S. Department of Defense; Smaller Carbone Footprint Means Fewer Risks, Officials Say; January 19, 2012; http://; accessed February 27, 2012.
34. Robyn, Dr. Dorothy; Statement of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Readiness; February 24, 2010; robyn_testimony022410.pdf; accessed February 27, 2012.
35. SERDP; January 13, 2012.
36. Trabish, Herman K.; Will the Military Be the Bridge to the US Renewable Energy Future? News Policy; Langson Energy; September, 2011;; accessed March 2, 2012. Reformatted by PSI.