Marines Like Solar Panels, But Want Them to Be Lighter, More Portable

10/14/2011
By Dan Parsons

Marines have successfully fielded solar arrays to power their equipment in Afghanistan, but they have now set more ambitious goals. They plan to continue to acquire renewable energy systems, but want them to be smaller and more portable than what they currently have.
The Marine Corps is seeking efficient renewable power sources for use in combat, preferably commercial technologies that are immediately available, said Maj. Sean Sadlier, of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office.
Some of the renewable energy technologies deployed in Afghanistan were so effective and popular that the Marine Corps has ramped up their introduction. Several officers responsible for energy efficiency within the Corps discussed their progress Oct. 13 at the Naval Energy Forum in Washington, D.C.
One word of caution for interested vendors: Marines are not interested in technology for the sake of technology. They want systems that help them in their their day-to-day missions. “When you’re talking to a bunch of marines heading out to combat, the last thing they want to do is deploy with a new technology,” said Col. Bob Charette, director of the Marine Expeditionary Energy Office.
Marines began carrying portable solar arrays into combat in December 2010.
They’ve also ramped up issuing portable, foldable solar blankets that troops can roll out on the move to recharge batteries and power radios. These systems have dramatically reduced marines’ reliance on generators that burn petroleum, said Sadlier.
Glass solar arrays have proven to be rugged enough for combat. Several at a forward operating base in Afghanistan were shattered by a concussion grenade and continued to operate without interruption, Sadlier said.
But the larger solar arrays are still a two-man portable system. The lighter foldable arrays can take hours to recharge a battery, and marines have to stop their vehicles to use them, which makes them vulnerable to enemy ambushes.
“I want them lighter and I want them faster,” Sadlier said.
The Corps’ efforts to reduce energy consumption are not limited to solar power. More efficient generators and insulating shields have been shipped to bases in Afghanistan to cut down on cooling costs. Direct-current generators have already reduced the cost of air-conditioning in theater by 30 percent, Sadlier said.
Larger generators have been outfitted with lead-acid batteries to store power when running. The power is then used to operate lights, computers and other equipment without burning fuel. Marines also are looking at ways to improve fuel efficiency in ground vehicles and aircraft, in tandem with the Navy.
The end goal is to help save lives by cutting down on the demand for fuel convoys, which are under constant attack.
“The most important thing is we’ve got to change the way you think about energy, because for the past 236 years, we haven’t been tracking (our usage),” Charette said. “Small improvements can have a big impact.”

Topics: Energy, Alternative Energy, Energy Security, Power Sources

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