The Army, Navy and Air Force are using more than 130 megawatts of solar for everything from powering remote special operations to air conditioning and lighting for U.S. base residences. And the forces intend to keep building toward 3 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2025 as part of a much bigger Department of Defense (DOD) commitment.

While detractors were declaring solar too intermittent to be reliable at home, U.S. Marines were successfully relying on it at battlefield sites in the Khyber Pass, according to Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy, a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), released just in time for Armed Forces Day on May 18.

The DOD’s annual $20 billion energy budget makes it the biggest single energy consumer in the world.

USC 2911 of DOD’s title 10 Energy Performance Goals, as updated in 2009, requires 25 percent of total military facility energy consumption to come from renewable energy sources by 2025.

Driven by that target, the Navy has installed more than 58 megawatts at or near bases in Washington, D.C. and twelve states. It has plans to exceed the basic plan by obtaining 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Its plans call for 57 percent of its new renewables to be from photovoltaic (PV) solar through 2017.

The Air Force, the military’s biggest energy consumer, has built 38 megawatts of solar capacity operating in 24 states. It will procure 1 gigawatt of renewables by 2016. The plan is for PV to be more than 70 percent of all new Air Force renewable capacity through 2017.

The Army has installed over 36 megawatts of solar installed at bases in sixteen states on its way to procuring 1 gigawatt of renewable capacity. Solar will account for one-third of the Army’s planned renewable capacity additions through 2017. 

By shifting Afghan remote bases to solar, the military has cut its consumption of generator liquid fuel from twenty gallons per day to 2.5 gallons per day, according to the report. The military pays $1 per gallon for liquid fuel and spends $399 per gallon delivering it to those remote bases.

Also highlighted in the report were solar innovations including:

  • Portable backpack-mounted solar panels and solar tent shields capable of charging and powering communications, targeting, surveillance and security equipment
  • A ground-mounted array at Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
  • The military’s leveraging of private capital through third-party ownership (TPO) financing and energy performance service contracts (EPSCs)
  • The 14-megawatt SunPower-financed ground-mounted array providing 30 percent of the annual electricity needs at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California
  • SolarCity’s Project SolarStrong, which has financed and built solar arrays at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and other bases
  • Honolulu’s Hickam Air Force Base solar community, where Project SolarStrong has installed 3.4 megawatts of rooftop solar on the way to creating one of the biggest solar communities in the world, with an eventual 5.5 megawatts that will serve 2,000 military homes
  • A planned 24-megawatt, 6,500-home solar community at Ohana Military Communities which serves Navy Region Hawaii and Marine Corps Base Hawaii
  • Solaria Corporation’s 4.1-megawatt, ground-mounted, low concentration PV installation at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico that was part of a 25-year energy efficiency EPSC implemented by Siemens (NYSE:SI)
  • The 2,200-unit solar water heating system installed at Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune in North Carolina that will meet 75 percent of the camp’s hot water needs and cut its water heating costs by 20 percent