Army plans 500-megawatt solar thermal farm

A new Army energy strategy includes plans for what could become the world's largest solar thermal farm, as well as geothermal and biomass-to-fuel projects.

Tech Culture

The Army plans to install a 500-megawatt solar thermal power farm at a Fort Irwin, Calif., base as part of its bid to reduce a $3 billion annual energy bill, spent mostly on installations.

Nellis Air Force Base solar panels. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.

The Mojave Desert plant would feed electricity to the grid by 2014 for savings of $21 million and 4,015,000 tons of carbon dioxide over 25 years. Construction is set to begin in 2012.

The Army's solar thermal system would eclipse the 14 megawatts at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, the largest U.S. solar photovoltaic installation.

"By making greater use of alternative and renewable energy, Army initiatives will bring energy savings and security to the Army, reducing the risk of power disruption," said Keith Eastin, the Army's assistant secretary for Installations & Environment, who is charged with reporting the progress of energy projects to Army Secretary Pete Geren.

The solar project is close to the scale of the 550 megawatts planned to come online by 2013 by OptiSolar of Hayward, Calif., for what would be the world's largest thin-film photovoltaic plant. Utility Pacific Gas & Electric inked a deal with that company in August to use electricity from the target site in San Luis Obispo County.

The Army's Monday announcement came as it establishes an energy council to advance a collection of projects, including:

  • A joint geothermal initiative with the Navy to provide 30 megawatts at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev., by 2012.
  • Biomass-to-fuel demonstrations at six Army posts: Forts Benning and Stewart in Georgia; Fort AP Hill, Va.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and Fort Lewis, Wash. A one-year test will begin in 2008. Waste for potential conversion for use as diesel or jet fuel would come from wood and grass clippings and cardboard.
  • Plans to buy 4,000 electric vehicles for maintenance and operations at Army posts, replacing 800 petroleum-powered vehicles. The Army aims to phase in the vehicles over three years, reducing the use of more than 11 million gallons of fossil fuel.
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