This Air Force base solar project is one of many solar
plants being built on military land. Image: SunEdison.
"I want to urge you to redouble your efforts. The work
that you're doing and purpose of this conference is crucial."
-- Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, at the Energy Storage
With two sentences, one of the highest-ranking military
leaders in the U.S. showed just how important energy innovation
is. He would go on to ask important questions, such as "How do
we take alternative energy and run it 24 hours a day? How do we
construct a microgrid on a base? How do we store energy?"
These are important questions for the military, and they're
important questions for companies developing new products and
innovations in energy today. If the military's challenges can
be answered, building the next generation of the grid will be a
cakewalk by comparison.
SunEdison is hoping that Solar Grid Storage will help it
build a microgrid business. Image: SunEdison.
The military is pushing the envelope
One of the biggest challenges the military faces is getting
energy to troops in the field. Whether it's a base in another
country or a remote site operation, energy is always needed and
is often hard to come by in abundance. Energy convoys have long
been a target for opposition forces; if the military could
rely on renewable on-site energy, there would be "no supply
chain vulnerability", as Richard Kidd, deputy assistant
secretary of the Army in charge of energy security, said in
The solutions the military is looking for include microgrids
and portable power. On the microgrid side,
are all working on ideas that could create solutions very
Solar Grid Storage
earlier this year in an effort to bring microgrid services to
the market, and SunPower has built multiple projects for the
military, although energy storage hasn't been a major component
yet. So companies are moving in the direction of microgrids,
but they're not there yet.
Another place where advances are necessary is in portable
energy. Whether it's radios, satellite phones, heaters, or
other energy needs in the field, the solar and energy storage
industries could help. But they're not answering that call
Goal Zero's Sherpa 100 Solar Kit includes solar cells and
a battery that can give you power in remote locations. Image:
Portable power progressing... slowly
On the portable power side, progress is slower. Goal Zero, a
bought last year, provides some small, portable solar cells,
and a battery as well. SunPower has dabbled in small chargers,
but so far it hasn't made a big investment in portable
For the solar industry, this could be the biggest
opportunity in the next five years. It's proven that stationary
energy production using the sun is possible; now that
technology needs to be made portable if the military is going
to use it on a larger scale.
The military is asking for more innovation... and
that's a good thing
What's encouraging for the solar and energy storage industries
is that the military is demanding more innovation from
renewable energy partners. Where there is a will, and money,
companies can find a way.
Microgrids are something that's possible even today, but
more work has to be done on portable energy production and
storage to satisfy the military's needs. But that presents a
great opportunity, especially for U.S. product makers like
SunPower and First Solar. Expect the military to be among their
most important customers in coming years, because they'll push
the envelope in ways that utilities can't yet imagine.
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Why The Military Will Drive Energy Innovation
to a New Level
originally appeared on Fool.com.
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