Garrison launches renewable energy project

Story and photo by Rick Scavetta
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

Energy from new photovoltaic panels atop warehouses at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern will soon provide enough energy for 500 homes and save roughly $50,000 annually.

The renewable energy project benefits both the U.S. military and German communities. On Sept. 10, Jeffrey Crisp, deputy to the garrison commander, joined German officials at Rhine Ordnance Barracks to mark the project’s start.

Under a blinding sun, they hoisted the first panels into place.

“It’s an important project that we’ve been working on for some time,” Crisp said. “Now, we’re working with the Army Corps of Engineers to add this to plans for all new buildings. It costs a little more up front, but costs us less in the long run.”

Solar panels come in two types: photovoltaic for electricity or thermal panels for heat and hot water, said Paul Lindemer of the garrison’s public works directorate. Roofs at ROB and Miesau Army Depot will have the former installed.

It’s the first time the U.S. Army put photovoltaic panels up in such a large scale overseas. On average, the panels will annually generate roughly 2.1 million megawatt hours of electrical energy — enough to power a village of 500 houses, Lindemer said.

“We’re putting so much on the top of these roofs that we will generate about 2,200 kilowatt peak, electrical power,” Lindemer said. “When the sun is fully shining, the panels generate about 950 kilowatts in an hour.”

Americans living in Germany are familiar with “sun farms” — swathes of solar panels alongside autobahns — and towering windmills upon hilltops. Faced with high energy prices, Germans embraced renewable energy projects several years ago, even offering government subsidies for those who install solar panels at home.

Now, the U.S. Army is also pursuing cost-saving efforts on overseas installations, including renewable energy efforts in the KMC. Garrison planners began the current project more than two years ago, Lindemer said.

“Everybody who wants to use renewable energy is looking for space to put solar panels up on roofs,” he said. “Roofs are rare. But, we have some big roofs to offer.”

The U.S. Army maintains huge warehouses. Some hold supplies and ammunition. Others are used pre-deployment or for community activities. Each one offers 36,600 square feet of roof space — enough for 900 panels. They will cover 10 roofs — six at ROB and four at Miesau — a total of roughly 366,000 square feet. That’s about the size of an IKEA store and larger than six football fields.

The buildings, however, belong to Germany. So garrison planners worked through Germany’s federal real estate office to negotiate with local energy providers. Once complete, local investors earn 50 percent and the German government earns 25 percent. In turn, the U.S. Army earns 25 percent as a deduction from its energy bill. Depending on the weather, that could mean saving the Army up to $50,000 annually.

The garrison also installed solar thermal panels on the Soldiers’ dining facility at Kleber Kaserne, to support the kitchen’s hot water needs, and at Wilson Barracks in Landstuhl. At Sembach Kaserne, where the garrison is renovating Soldiers’ barracks and buildings for new community services, renewable energy efforts are also planned with both thermal and photovoltaic panels for rooftops, Lindemer said.