A view of solar panels recently installed on the roof of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Headquarters, Old Town Complex

The Navy made another leap into renewable energy integration Jan. 18 with groundbreaking on a new 118 acre solar farm in China Lake, Calif.

Construction of a SunPower Corporation 13.78 megawatt solar photovoltaic power system officially got underway at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake following a mid-morning ceremony at the sprawling weapons development base.

“This is the largest solar project in the Navy,” said Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installation and Environment Jackalyne Pfannenstiel. “It demonstrates tangible progress toward national energy independence and reaching the Department of the Navy’s energy goals.”

SunPower’s Oasis Power Plant product, a fully-integrated, modular solar block consisting of 31,680 solar panels, is expected to generate more than 30 percent of NAWS China Lake’s annual energy load.

“The weapons division here is the consumer, and with that consumption requirement comes responsibility,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

“This project gives us the opportunity as the major consumer of the energy to look into our own processes and practices,” Winter said. “As we are more efficient in executing and continuing to do our mission it frees up resources for us to provide to our war fighter.”

An array of solar panels supplies energy for necessities at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The solar farm integration, which is made possible through a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA), will allow the Navy to buy electricity below the retail utility rate and reduce costs by an estimated $13 million over the next 20 years.

The PPA involves no initial out-of-pocket expenses for the Navy and will provide increased energy independence and reliable, emission-free solar power to NAWS China Lake beginning at the end of this year.

“The Navy has a longstanding record of identifying energy and water conservation opportunities across our facilities,” said Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, commander, Navy Region Southwest. “We are continuing to transform our culture from one of consumption to one focused on conservation.”

NAWS China Lake’s solar farm is representative of the Navy’s energy initiative, laid out by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in 2009, which aspires to achieve 50 percent of the Navy’s shore-based energy requirements produced by alternative sources by the year 2020.

“We face a global energy challenge, which is for us a national strategic imperative that we solve,” said Capt. Clifford Maurer, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest commanding officer. “There was an extraordinary level of effort that went into market research, industry partnering, preparing complicated acquisition documentation, navigating complicated regulations and incentives, and doing technical analysis.”

Under the 20-year federal solar PPA, SunPower will build, operate and maintain the solar power system that uses the company’s high-efficiency solar panels, and which it guarantees through a 25-year warranty. SunPower has worked with federal agencies since 1999 and has installed more than 25 megawatts of solar power systems at government facilities, including solar power plants at Navy installations in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Coronado, Calif.

“We are so honored to be here today,” said Howard Wenger, president of SunPower. “It really is a testament to the commitment and leadership of many people in the Navy, and the base here in China Lake, that we are here today celebrating this very significant groundbreaking.”

NAWS China Lake is located in the Western Mojave Desert region of California. The installation is the Navy’s largest single landholding, representing 85 percent of the Navy’s land for research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation of weapons systems. The two ranges and main site of NAWS China Lake cover more than 1.1 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.