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How is the US Air Force adapting to renewable energy?

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What steps are the U.S. Air Force taking to shift from non-renewable to sustainable energy sources?

For fuel-consumptive industries, the shift to renewable energy can be an expensive process -- one that requires extensive planning, investment, and occasionally battles in the political arena.

The U.S. Air Force is one of these industries. Required to fulfill a number of tasks for the sake of national security, it now must also establish a way to achieve higher levels of energy efficiency and begin to lessen its dependency on sources of energy that are not renewable.

So what is the current state of affairs in the American Air Force?

The goal of the U.S. Air Force is to obtain 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2016; with a longer-term aim of using renewable sources for 25 percent of installation electricity use by 2025.

To date, the following steps have been taken:

  • 6 percent of facility energy came from renewables in 2011.
  • Currently 131 projects at 56 installations generate 37 MW of power through sources including wind, solar, ground source thermal and landfill gas.
  • 50 additional projects are currently under construction or are operational, adding a further 19 MW from renewable power.
  • The Air Force is the #2 renewable energy user in the federal government.

Two examples of these projects include the Massachusetts Military Reservation, where three wind turbines produce 4.5 MW, and the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada that has an operational solar array that spans 140 acres -- generating 14 MW. 21 more renewable power-purchase projects are currently in development.

Enhanced Use Leases (EULs) are an important part of the Air Force's itinerary to power their organisations. By leasing land it owns to third parties, additional renewable energy generator facilities can be built, and this power can be utilized from these companies at discounted rates.

In addition, the organisation plans to implement new 6 energy EULs in the next three years, including waste-to-energy projects, the construction of a Utah-based 15-20 MW photovoltaic array, and a more powerful 350-440 MW photovoltaic array to be constructed in California.

According to the Worldwide Utility Smart Grid Spending Forecast, 2010-2015, expenditure on efficiency technology will increase sharply over the next few years. The report predicts that the North American market sector will be the most dynamic area of investment in the short-term -- and it is these shifts that are taking place now in the U.S. that will insure organisations will be able to continue functioning effectively even as fuel prices continue to rise.

Image credit: Flickr

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure