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Defense Department to test concentrating solar

Skyline Solar says that two military bases in desert areas will use its solar arrays to test how quickly the concentrating photovoltaic systems can be installed and upgraded in the field.

Skyline Solar's arrays reflect light onto a strip of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity.
Skyline Solar's arrays reflect light onto a strip of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET

The Department of Defense will install solar arrays from start-up Skyline Solar on its bases in what should be a large-scale test of concentrating solar photovoltaic technology.

Skyline Solar said that the DoD will install its solar arrays at two domestic bases, which will have a combined production of 436 megawatt-hours of energy per year. The average U.S. home consumes about 11 megawatt-hours a year, so these will be relatively large solar installations able to cover a portion of the bases' electricity demand.

A single array is built around a metal trough which reflects light onto strips of monocrystalline silicon to boost the power generation from these photovoltaic cells. The arrays are mounted and track the sun over the course of the day. This concentrating photovoltaic technology is well suited for desert areas with bright sun and low humidity.

The DoD will test these arrays through a program called the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) to identify renewable energy technologies with the best potential for commercialization. The tests will seek to see if Skyline Solar's arrays can be installed quickly and upgraded in the field.

The military--and federal government, in general--has often been singled out as one of the most effective ways to test new energy technology in real-world customer situations, which can help speed time to market.

Many military leaders are vocal supporters of diversifying energy away from fossil fuels to decrease imports and to improve the safety of soldiers put in danger from transporting fuel for generators and vehicles in the field.