U.S. Marine Corps Go Solar
It’salso making our armed forces more mobile and less dependent ontraditional sources of energy, which means less hauling gas around inconvoys, which means making our troops safer in battle zones.
Powering modern warfare is an aspect of defense funding that notmany Americans think about on a daily basis. How do you keepcommunications equipment and tactical devices running in the field? Howdo you deal with transporting batteries, generators, and enough fuel torun an entire mission off base? A recent article by Brian Robinson in Defense Systems highlightsa new technology that will give Marines stationed in war zones inAfghanistan and Iraq a whole new way to keep powered up on the move.
The Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (Greens) uses arrays of solar panels and rechargeable batteries to provide an average continuous output of 300 watts,enough to power most of the essential communications and targetingelectronics that Marine forces would need in remote locations. It canprovide as much as 1,000 watts of power.
While Marines will benefit from this new solar technology, the Navyis actually developing it. The Navy signed a memorandum ofunderstanding with the Department of Agriculture last month to startworking on renewable energy and biofuels technology. Strategically,U.S. armed forces would like to be as independent as possible, forobvious reasons; and by 2020, “at least 40 percent of the Navy’s totalenergy consumption should be from alternative sources”, said NavySecretary Ray Mabus.
Isn’t a kit of solar panels and batteries just as awkward logistically to move around as generators? No, says the Office of Naval Research.And not all of a GREENS kit needs to go on each mission. “The GREENStoolkit feature allows Marines to enter their expected mission profileand determine which components of the GREENS system they will need totake with them. GREENS can be rapidly deployed and is HMMWVtransportable.”
No new technology is perfect. Solar cells are less efficient at hightemperatures, and GREENS can only produce about 85 percent of its 300continuous watts at temperatures higher than 116 Fahrenheit. However,over the next two years, the Navy hopes to have the system operating at100 percent capacity under any conditions. As in many other arenas oftechnology–communications, most notably–military and defense R&Dmay actually drive advances in the field at large. Improving efficiencyis one half of the solar industry’s two main goals right now; the otheris driving down cost.
Ironically, incorporating solar energy into distributed troops’technology is a major cost saver for the military. As Robinson reports,
Transporting fuel in Afghanistan and Iraq along some ofthe riskier routes can raise fuel costs from a regular price of $1 pergallon to about $400, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told arecent Navy energy forum. If an airlift is necessary, the price canreach $1,000.
Renewable energy in the military isn’t just showing up in productsfor deployed forces, either. Just to name a few other projects: aMarine Corps base in Georgia is working on a 2 MW power waste-to-energypower plant; the largest Marine base in the country, California’s 29Palms, has had a 1,291 kw solar panel array providing power since 2003(a BP Solar installation); the Miramar, CA Marine Air Station will be using solar carports by this spring; and just days ago, the Department of Defense awarded a total of $100,000,000 in PPA-funded renewable energy contracts (including solar).
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