NAPLES, Italy — It is not immediately noticeable when coming and going from the Navy’s Capodichino base here in Naples, but one small piece of the service’s effort to “go green” is taking shape atop a parking garage near the front gate.

Later this year, a small portion of the Navy’s energy will be provided by a shiny spread of solar panels. Although still very small in scope, it is part of a 1.7 million-euro contract taking place here and at Naval Air Station Sigonella.

It’s a small piece of the $500 million worth of Navy green initiatives taking place worldwide in this fiscal year alone.

From ships and office air-conditioning units to alternative energy sources, the Navy is investing heavily in energy conservation and ways to wean the service off its oil dependence.

On shore and at sea, the Navy accounts for nearly a third of the Defense Department’s overall energy use and consumes about 80,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the service’s alternative energy plan, released last year.

The Navy hopes to get at least half its energy needs via alternative fuels by 2020, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said earlier this month. By the same year, the Navy will work to ensure that at least half its bases will be at “net zero” in terms of energy used. A net zero building doesn’t get power off the grid. It generates its own power internally via solar, wind or other alternative fuels.

“Ensuring that our new buildings are energy-efficient and ensuring that they use the latest technologies is an important part of meeting this goal,” Mabus said last month in a speech to the annual meeting sponsored by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, which promotes environmentally friendly building practices.

As part of this greening effort, any contractor who wants to bid on a Navy or Marine Corps construction project will have to adhere to the council’s best practices for designing and constructing green buildings beginning in fiscal 2013.

The service also plans to halve the amount of petroleum used in non-tactical vehicles by 2015 via the phased introduction of hybrid, electric and flex fuel vehicles. Lessening oil dependence reduces the military’s dependence on other countries for fuel, Mabus said this month. It’s also pricey and dangerous to transport fuel to places like Afghanistan, he said.

Navy officials say the Capo solar panels will, at best, produce 300 kilowatts of power. The base uses about 5,000 kilowatts of power at any given time, according to Naval Facilities Engineering Command spokeswoman Kelly Burdick.

And 300 kilowatts is the Navy’s ideal calculation “if the sun was shining on the panels at the perfect angle, with no clouds, 24-7,” Burdick said in an email.

Instead, she said, the solar panels will contribute between 1 percent and 2 percent of the base’s power consumption and provide “free energy” for the next 50 years.

“A small amount, but an excellent step in the right direction to a sustainable base, and a sustainable future,” Burdick said.

That small contribution will save the Navy about $200,000 a year in energy purchase costs off the Italian grid, she said, adding that that is a conservative estimate based on the assumption that the price of energy will not rise in the future.

On the tactical side, the Navy last year conducted a successful test in which a F/A-18 Super Hornet jet flew on a combination of regular jet fuel and a biofuel made out of camelina, a hardy plant native to the U.S.

A “Green Strike Group” is also in the works that will sail on biofuels within the next five years.

The strike group would consist of three to five surface combatant ships, an aircraft carrier, a submarine and an air wing. All the prime movers would be powered by biofuel, except for the submarine and carrier, which will continue to use nuclear power.

Certain crops can create fuels to power today’s fleets without any engine redesign, Rear Adm. Philip Cullom, then head of the Navy’s Task Force Energy, said last year.

“One day, you can be using petroleum, the next day, you can use a biofuel, and it doesn’t matter,” he said. “The ship doesn’t know the difference. The captain of the ship doesn’t know the difference, and they effectively get the same amount of energy out of them, so you’re not filling up any differently.”

Twitter: @Stripes_GeoffZ

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