Environment Forum

Defense Department to test concentrating photovoltaic technology

Skyline Solar Array_CenterLine - cropped_1The United States Department of Defense has signed a deal with Silicon Valley startup Skyline Solar to test its concentrating photovoltaic technology at military bases in California and Texas.

The Pentagon, one of the nation’s biggest consumers of energy, has emerged as a driver of new green technologies in an effort to wean itself of imported oil, reduce its carbon footprint and improve national security.

Earlier this year, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pledged that within a decade the U.S. Navy would obtain half of its energy on land and sea from renewable sources. Back in 2007, the Air Force commissioned SunPower to build what was then the country’s largest photovoltaic power plant at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

According to the agreement announced Tuesday, Skyline will build a 100-kilowatt solar array at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California and another 100-kilowatt system at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.

At first glance, the company’s power plants resemble solar thermal parabolic trough installations that deploy long rows of mirrors to heat tubes of liquid suspended over the arrays to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Utility makes big bets on solar technology


As solar panel prices have plummeted over the past year, photovoltaic power plants have become a more attractive option for utilities under pressure to meet renewable energy targets.

Case in point: Late last week utility Southern California Edison announced it had signed contracts for 239.5 megawatts of electricity to be generated by 20 small-scale photovoltaic farms.

“Photovoltaics are definitely more cost competitive than they were just a couple of years ago,” said Mike Marelli, director of contracts for renewable and alternative power at Southern California Edison. “We’re seeing just a wild response to our solicitations for projects.”