It just takes one well-placed round to turn a routine refueling mission into a disaster. Sadly those disasters have happened all too frequently as America's fuel convoys have become one of the most sought after targets for our nation's foes. In Afghanistan, for example, some years have seen one casualty for every two dozen refueling missions. That explosive reality has the military searching for safer fuel options, with solar a likely long-term winner.
The battle starts at home
In an effort to save lives, money and the environment the U.S. military is making a multi-billion dollar commitment to increase its usage of renewable energy. Its stated goal is to generate 25% of its power by renewable sources by 2025. While the military is investing in a range of renewable options, solar is rising to the top. In fact, solar is 58% of the renewable energy capacity additions planned through 2017.
The military is engaged in an array of projects using solar throughout the U.S. For example, defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) is installing small-scale power systems at U.S. bases. One of Lockheed Martin's projects is a micro-grid powering a dining facility at Fort Bliss in Texas. Another example of solar's growing scale is a SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) solar farm constructed at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. The SunPower project will supply 30% of the facility's needs and save the Navy $13 million over the project's 20-year life span. A final example is SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY.DL), which has been constructing one of the largest solar communities in the nation at Hickham Air Force Base in Hawaii. The SolarCity project has connected over 2,000 homes at the base. However, as important as solar is to meeting the military's renewable energy goals, it's not the only place that solar shines.
Why solar shines on the battlefield
Because its lightweight and easily transported, solar actually shows a lot of promise as the next generation power supplier when our troops are on the battlefield. It's a great power source for "fixed-site" locations that are located in remote areas. By installing solar panels at these locations, the military can reduce the demand for generators and the dangerous refueling missions needed for resupply.
That's why we're seeing the U.S. military invest in everything from advanced tents with flexible solar panels to installing solar on the rooftops of more permanent structures.
Solar isn't just replacing gas guzzling generators at forward operating bases, but because of its extreme mobility soldiers can actually bring solar with them on missions. For example, a recent article on Mashable highlighted the fact that soldiers typically carry 10 to 13 pounds of batteries when they go out on a mission. These batteries are used to power the growing tech gadgets used by America's military forces. The problem is that this batter weight can impede mobility. This is where new advancements like wearable solar panels are literally lightening the load for our soldiers.
Because its lightweight and mobile, solar's usage by the military could explode in the coming decades. It is the only power technology currently available that is both renewable and highly mobile.
This is why solar could prove to be the most valuable power source for our military in the years to come as well as provide our nation with a real competitive advantage. Best of all, it could drastically cut back on the number of dangerous resupply trips. Bottom line, solar could prove to be a real profitable investment both for our military and for investors.
Where to invest in 2014
Fool contributor Matt DiLallo owns shares of SolarCity. The Motley Fool recommends SolarCity. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin and SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.