The Energy Department has announced it is putting solar panels on the roof of the Pentagon for environmental reasons. No study has been done on the feasibility of this venture. No one has figured out the actual capacity needed, the percentage of power it could generate, whether the Pentagon’s building can support such an installation or how disruptive installing a solar system could be to Pentagon operations, or even how long it would take. Furthermore, nothing has been done to figure out whether a solar power system will undermine the building’s electronic security.
The other big question is where will the solar system for the Pentagon come from? Will the panels be Chinese? What about the batteries? The switching system? If Chinese, could they bug the system?
Eight out of ten solar panels installed in the United States come from China. Even if the Pentagon buys American-made panels, the metallurgical grade silicon and polysilicon needed for solar panels mostly comes from China.
In addition, if the Pentagon is really going to rely for its operation on solar energy it will need massive batteries. The batteries will be based on lithium, and China is the world’s second-largest producer. When it comes to the actual batteries, the Solarquotes blog says this: “Six of the world’s ten largest lithium-ion battery companies are in China. They produced a whopping 79 percent of all lithium-ion batteries that entered the global market in 2021 and are projected to remain the leading country in lithium-ion battery manufacturing in 2025.”
Even if the battery packs are American, the individual batteries inside them probably come from Asia, most likely China.
The Pentagon is supposed to follow the Buy America Act. Usually, that is interpreted to mean that domestically sourced portions of the acquisition must add up to more than half the total cost. Vendors, however, are allowed to count installation costs in figuring the percent of US content.
Moreover, Buy America requirements are often waived. That has been necessary for the past three decades since Chinese-made computers, laptops, modems, and other electronics are used regularly even in strategic nuclear submarines. This is done by using “waivers” that are in the Act and in the Act’s regulations. A key provision allows waivers: “The provisions of the act may be waived if the head of the procuring agency determines the act to be inconsistent with the public interest or the cost of acquiring the domestic product is unreasonable.”
Neither the Department of Energy, which is providing the initial funding, nor the Defense Department is likely to look too hard if the stuff is full of Chinese content.
If the Pentagon gets a solar system, one hopes that the storage batteries are installed in a building separate from the Pentagon – in the same way that the Pentagons independent power plant is in a separate building.
While the Energy Department says it is paying for the solar panels, it’s likely that the installation cost and new buildings plus the special wiring and switching systems will have to come out of the Pentagon’s budget.
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