On Sept. 7, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a $340 million loan guarantee to SolarCity and U.S. Renewables Group Renewable Finance and Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s $1 billion SolarStrong project, which will put solar on the homes of service members living on base across all branches of the U.S. military. Under the expansive project, 160,000 homes on military bases across the country will soon have solar systems under the SolarStrong project, which will likely be the largest residential project in the world.
The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest energy consumer, and it’s working to make sure that the energy it uses is greener and produced domestically. Such efforts can be seen in this project and its recent $500 million contract to install solar across it’s installations in Hawaii. The move isn’t being made to please environmentalists. It’s being made as a matter of national security, and to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy.
"The SolarStrong project will create thousands of jobs and provide a new career opportunity for our veterans returning home from military service,” said Solar Energy Industries Association Executive Director Rhone Resch. “This project exemplifies the American entrepreneurial spirit that has grown solar from a start up to being the fastest growing industry in the U.S.”
SolarCity is working with military housing companies, which own the homes, to install the solar arrays.
Homes on military bases often do not have individual meters.
“They’re generally behind one meter. So typically we install, own and operate the project,” said SolarCity spokesperson Jonathan Bass.
The solar arrays will each have their own inverters so they can feed AC power directly to the homes and back to the grid, he said.
The project will help the Department of Defense save money on energy bills, according to Bass.
Under the agreements being made through the SolarStrong project, the housing management company pays for the power that the system produces.
“And they pay at a rate lower than what they previously paid for electricity. They can use that money to do housing improvements or expand further within that development,” he said.
The first SolarStrong project is already underway at the Navy and Air Force base now known as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, according to Bass.
“It will be on several hundred rooftops,” he said. “We expect it to be 4 megawatts and provide power to 2,000 military homes.”
SolarCity originally conceived of the SolarStrong project more than a year ago, Bass said.
“It’s been a long time,” he said.
The company, which offers residential and commercial systems and financing options, including leases, power-purchase agreements and outright system purchases, completed its first residential military base installation in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“We thought we could do more of these,” he said.
However, the company had a hard time making the financing for such projects economically feasible.
“The loan guarantee helps make this more feasible for us,” Bass said.
While it’s not required, SolarCity will try to use U.S.-made panels whenever possible.
“The first SolarStrong project uses U.S.-made panels. They’re manufactured in California,” he said.
But the company does use a wide range of photovoltaic panels.
The five-year project could cover 124 military housing developments across the U.S.
“We’re in 11 states, and this could be up to 33 states. We’re hopeful this could help us get into more states,” Bass said.
Image courtesy of NREL.