Global energy production reached a milestone in recent months, which is encouraging.
Government officials in the United Kingdom announced a few weeks ago that electricity from wind and solar sources in 2017 surpassed energy output from nuclear power plants. The differential was 29 percent from renewables, to 21 percent from nuclear power plants.
Portugal generated more renewable energy than it needed last month. Energy from renewable sources made up 103.6 percent of electricity consumption in March.
On the other hand, carbon emissions from all sources reached an historic high in 2017. Figures released by the International Energy Agency show higher energy demands and a slowing of energy-efficiency improvements were responsible for the increase. This comes after three years of flat-lining.
Demand for energy increases with the population, but so are the production values of renewable, sustainable sources such as wind and sunlight.
All of which puts the spotlight on Vandenberg Air Force Base’s flipping the switch to the “on” position this week for its 180-acre solar farm, which has been in the works for nearly a year.
The 28-megawatt solar-photovoltaic array sits just off Highway 1 south of the base’s northern-most Santa Maria gate. It is expected to generate enough electric power to meet about a third of the base’s total energy needs.
Here’s why that matters — a solar farm of that size is capable of reducing VAFB’s energy costs by about $1.75 million a year over the next 25 years. Those are your tax dollars being saved, while at the same time reducing the base’s carbon footprint.
Having such a significant part of the base’s power needs supplied by renewable, sustainable sources also serves another important purpose, and this is something the U.S. military really prizes — backup, redundancy, a source to rely on in case of a power emergency.
The quarter-century life expectancy of the solar project has added value, according to one Air Force official: “Using a long-term contract with fixed costs ensures we have the electricity we need, when we need it and broadens the pool we have for power sources there. This is one step closer to our target of full energy assurance for key Air Force missions.”
Sounds like a reasonable template for military and non-military uses alike. In fact, Vandenberg’s solar project could be a model for other Central Coast communities, whose energy needs are just as great as the military’s, although quite different in context.
Santa Barbara County has a long history of involvement with the fossil-fuel industry. The evidence is easy to spot, with those oil rigs shimmering in the afternoon sunlight on the channel, and the skeleton of the Chevron processing facility on the Gaviota coast.
But this region also has something else of great importance to the next era of energy production — wind and sun.
How many times have you been to Lompoc when you didn’t have to keep a firm grip on your hat? How much sunshine is there in the eastern edges of the Central Coast after the marine layer burns off?
Combined with the proximity of the Pacific Ocean and modern desalination technologies, this region has all the ingredients for a fully sustainable energy future.
Fossil fuels will remain a necessary component in our nation’s energy equation, but that will diminish with time. Russian oligarchs will continue to promote the industry that lines their pockets, but most U.S. oil companies understand what the future holds, and are working on renewable projects.
Air Force officials are definitely thinking ahead.