Is This Energy Source a Key to National Security?

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When I think about energy and national security, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a disruption in oil imports or some sort of nuclear disaster. The form and function of the electrical grid itself wasn't at the top of the list -- until now.

Recent comments from David Crane of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG  ) have made me think that maybe solar energy could play a role in national energy security. Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's ECO:nomics conference late last month, he said that solar energy may be a national security issue. When you step back and think about it, he's probably right.

Solar energy is the first energy source we're able to generate economically at home. A roof filled with solar panels can power an entire house, assuming it has some energy storage or grid backup. This is problematic for utilities, because solar owners will be using the grid only for backup, potentially adding cost to other consumers, but from a security standpoint it may be a step forward.

Look at the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year. The country shut down all nuclear reactors, which added to fossil fuel imports and disrupted service. A similar disaster or attack on major power plants in the U.S. could leave portions of the country without power for weeks. It took weeks to get power back to parts of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy and the Northeast blackout of 2003 left millions without power without any notice.

Solar energy changes the landscape. A blackout would be more manageable for consumers if they have solar power during the day and may go unnoticed if they have battery backup. Maybe it's true that solar power could be a piece of improved energy security.

The military is on board
We know that the U.S. military is already seeing solar as a powerful energy source. SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR  ) built a 14 MW plant at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, generating 30% of the base's annual power needs.  

On a smaller basis, the Army has introduced portable power solutions for forward bases and is testing other solar technologies and energy storage. If distributed energy on the grid doesn't make you feel safer for the energy grid, giving usable power to our troops in the field should. Solar will not only be a useful tool for soldiers, but it will also save cost, since transporting fuel is an expensive and dangerous task on the battlefield.  

The winners in distributed solar
Distributed solar is one piece of a more secure energy grid, and investors can get onboard in a few different ways. NRG Energy owns large solar plants and is getting into the distributed solar business as well. SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) is the dominant player in residential solar, and panel manufacturer SunPower is expanding its reach through a leasing program. Finally, MEMC Electronic Materials (NASDAQOTH: SUNEQ  ) is transforming itself into a project developer and is putting a big effort behind distributed solar power generation.

These four companies should benefit as solar, particularly distributed solar, grows in coming years. Maybe we'll even begin viewing these installations as a key part of our national security.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 9:41 AM, PLANETARYDEFENSE wrote:
  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 10:47 AM, rootbeergrail wrote:

    What National Security?

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 11:09 AM, JoeMiddleclass wrote:

    I counted today's Yahoo 'news' stories. 18 f them were from Motley Fool. Folks this isn't news this is a company playing to masquerade as a news source to sell you their services. Yahoo is selling us down the river with bad reporting to begin with and then 'phoney' news.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 11:49 AM, ThomGorman wrote:

    Exploiting our gas and oil reserves, first will give us the advantage of energy independence (non-imported supplies impervious to being cut off) and solar energy is currently sending a lot of capital to China and should not be re-considered until we develope stand alone systems here.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 12:01 PM, buzzltyr wrote:

    solar really gets the conservatives panties in a bunch. For the record, 20% of my roof is convered with solar panels and I am getting 10% ROI. Easy money

    A lot pf the military work is in hawaii where solar comes in about 1/4 the cost of generated power. Plus in times of war you will not need to import fuel.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 1:12 PM, davidlskipper wrote:

    Travis is like most others focused on something that benefits his own interest rather than the interest of all in promoting his holdings.

    Is application of a technology which pulls money from the US holdings and transfers it to Chinese holdings good for our economic security? No. The Chinese are the only nation processing RARE EARTH METALS necessary for most of todays Renewable tech. The Army wasted taxpayer dollars in that 14MW plant as the panels will reach their end of productive life 20-50 years before the panels can produce enough electricity to pay for the installation.

    All our federal goverments Energy programs are more productive at supporting industry that making progress at valid, energy reductions.

    We as a federal goverment have been doing energy conservation for over 30 years and we use more energy per square foot of facility today than 30 years ago. Likely 3 times what we used 30 years ago. It is true that we are lower than 10 years ago, but that is only becuase we were so poor in our execution.

    The first step to our nations energy security is building facilities that use the least amount of energy necessary thereby limiting that which we need to import/locate. Next, we need to operate it correctly to include actually maintaining those facilities which will provide skilled jobs. And finally operate the facilities as they were designed.

    These three cornerstones will be capable of ~30% reductions in energy consumption and 30% lower requirements.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 1:44 PM, rangerchuck wrote:

    The article is overly simplistic. The nation faces two very different Energy issues. The first is the generation and distribution of electricity. That can be done by many different methods that are both "green" and relatively cheap. Wind, solar (heated liquid), tidal, Thorium reactors, followed later by thermonuclear reactors, plus water power will be able to do the job on the macro scale. Although renewable energy presents so technical problem because that are not constant, and present a problem in balancing of the load. PV on the roofs of houses, apartments, and other buildings can do provide a good source of power most of the day. This is much more difficult then this piece or the article states it is doable.

    The second source of needed energy is what I call transportation fuels, Planes, trains, Buses,ships, trucks and cars. For that fuel to efficient it should be liquid and easily transportable both in bulk and on the vehicle. Planes and Ships can never have any electrically powered so oil or some form of liquid will always be needed. Train, buses can use electricity from over head or third rail technology. Truck, and automobiles can be hybrid or fuel and the technology needs to be clean. It is easier to use a combination of clean burning engines combined with the cleaning up of the fuel before it goes into the tank. What will not work is using food grains to produce alcohol as a clean fuel.

    All is can be done but we must have a government that give to the successful produce of any of the energy needs but the government can not pick and chose who will be the winners. Want to see how well the government does look at the government chosen replacement for the light bulb, the CFL is a rolling toxic waste problem, and the low flow toilet, to the industry about 2 years to produce a better than the government toilet.

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2013, at 2:30 PM, willmakeenergy2 wrote:

    Make energy with no pollution 24/7 using air and hydro. see how at Green Clean Electricity for a cheap energy source to make megawatts of electricity

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