MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Another technology story now, this one from North Carolina. On the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base, large reflective rectangles line the rooftops of many homes. They're not some high-tech military gadget or a satellite dish, they're solar panels for heating water. In fact, so many have gone up in one neighborhood that it's quickly becoming the largest community in the continental U.S. to heat water with energy from the sun.

From member station WHQR, Catherine Welch reports.

CATHERINE WELCH: An American flag flies from the porch of Sergeant Kirk Paulsen and his wife's light brown house. The Paulsens live on the corner of a cul-de-sac where every home on the block has a 10-by-4 foot solar panel smack in the middle of the roof. The solar panel is a new addition to the Paulsen home. One they're proud of.

Sergeant KIRK PAULSEN (U.S. Marines): And it's kind of like a milestone in our history books for the Marine Corps, for the state of North Carolina and for the continental U.S. So I feel very proud of that, that we're conserving it for our children's children's children.

WELCH: Eventually solar panels will sit on top of 900 homes in this Camp Lejeune neighborhood.

Recently the Paulsens sacrificed a little privacy and let some energy officials and North Carolina governor, Bev Perdue, into their home to poke around the utility closet.

(Soundbite of visit)

Governor BEV PERDUE (Democrat, North Carolina): If any home has a roof that gets some sun, does it matter the direction of the sun, or...

WELCH: Michael Shore says no. He's the president of�FLS Energy, the company behind the solar panels. He says they act like a greenhouse, heating a fluid that runs down pipes inside the house, transferring heat into a 40-gallon water tank with temperatures reaching 180 degrees. Shore says solar panels are one of the most cost-effective ways to generate energy.

Mr. MICHAEL SHORE (President, FLS Energy): And we have this myth in this country that renewable energy's expensive. And here, Camp Lejeune and the housing company are saving money through solar. So I think we are really in the midst of a shift on how our nation gets its energy.

WELCH: Shore says energy from the sun can heat three-quarters of the water used in a typical household. Marines living on base don't pay utility bills. So who's saving money? Camp Lejeune, sort of.

FLS buys all of the solar panels and equipment and sells the hot water to the company that runs Camp Lejeune's on-base housing. FLS has done this before and it's with populations of individuals who don't have to foot the water bill themselves. It's tacked solar panels on top of hotels, college dorms, prisons, places that use a lot of hot water.

Mr. SHORE: So the military was, you know, the next and maybe the best frontier just because there's so much hot water that's used on a base.

WELCH: It'll cost FLS $6 million to hook up all 900 homes on base to solar water heaters. For the average civilian homeowner, the out-of-pocket cost can run as much as $7,000. Sergeant Kirk Paulsen and his wife, Jamie, have only had their solar hot water heater for a few weeks. But they say so far there have been no surprise cold showers.

Sgt. PAULSEN: When we're taking a shower or whatnot, the water is always nice and warm. When we want a warm shower, you know, on a cold day, there's always warm water available.

WELCH: After conquering the Marines, FLS Energy has its sights set on bringing solar water heaters to families in the other branches of the military.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.

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