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US Army Deploys First Floating Solar Array


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(Photo: US Army)
The US Army conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony over the weekend for a new clean energy facility: the Department of Defense’s first floating solar array. 

The system sits atop the surface of North Carolina’s Big Muddy Lake, where it will generate clean energy for Fort Bragg. At 1.1 megawatts, it’s the biggest floating solar array in the Southeast United States. The Army base will use the energy to power onsite facilities, supplement the local energy grid, and create a backup power source in case of power outages. 

The array is the result of a collaboration between Fort Bragg, Ameresco (a renewable energy company) and Duke Energy (one of North Carolina’s power companies). The Army reports that alongside their new setup at Big Muddy Lake, the trio are testing an electronic “recloser” funded by the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program. If all goes well, the recloser will help minimize power disruptions and system damage during transient events, like contact between a tree and power line. 

(Photo: Andreas Gücklhorn/Unsplash)

The US has generally been slow to adopt floating solar arrays, and for good reason. Floating arrays are more expensive to implement than the kind that exist on land. While your average solar panel can simply sit in a field (or on your roof), floating panels rely on an anchored raft. There’s also the obvious connectivity concern—clean energy sources are often a moot point if they can’t be connected to a power grid or other system for use. 

But the Earth has a lot more aquatic real estate to offer, making floating arrays a must if we ever want to fully adopt renewable energy. The US in particular has a wide range of human-built bodies of water onto which solar arrays could be installed. This includes canals and reservoirs, which could be used in part for clean energy generation without sacrificing recreational use. Being surrounded by water also helps solar panels keep cool, which boosts their productivity. 

As a relatively early adopter of floating solar here in the US, the Army hopes the Big Muddy Lake facility will “promote energy resilience” and help reduce on-base greenhouse gas emissions. This is a noble goal, given the branch produces about 4.1 million tons of greenhouse gasses each year. But it’s also a drop in the bucket: the Army would need more than 15,000 of these arrays to reach carbon neutrality. Fingers crossed the branch has plans to install more. 

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