Of all places, the U.S. military has proven one of the fiercest proponents of renewable energy, and for totally practical reasons -- most importantly cost and safety. Now, military higher-ups plan to rely on renewable energy sources for 50 percent of their power by 2020, which could help the worldwide advancement of those technologies immeasurably. One company of Marines, saddled with tons of solar power tech, is kickstarting this revolution.
The military is not a new player on the renewable energy scene; the Navy has previously pledged to have a "Green Strike Group" by 2012, was the biggest purchaser of electric cars in the country, and is working on "zero-footprint" camps. These aren't ideological choices--renewable energy and many of its applications are simply better than fossil fuels in many ways.
Says Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy: "Fossil fuel is the number-one thing we import to Afghanistan, and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people." The convoys that deliver fossil fuel are frequent targets of insurgent attack, which can impair both the delivery system and the lives of civilians and soldiers--a study found that roughly one civilian or soldier is killed for every 24 fuel convoys sent. And given that fuel often makes up, 30 to 80 percent of every convoy's load, according to the New York Times, that's a lot of danger.
The reason renewable sources have been slow to take hold is largely for their high cost of production--a certain amount of solar energy is far more expensive to produce than the same amount of energy from fossil fuels. But given the astronomically high prices of transport for fossil fuels, solar energy, for one, doesn't seem so pricey. Solar energy may be more expensive to produce, but carting around solar panels is far less dangerous and expensive than repeatedly shipping fossil fuels around the world.
The 150 Marines of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, which set off from California last week, are the first to bring renewable energy tech to a battle zone. That tech includes portable solar panels, solar chargers, and solar tents. The military clearly hopes this venture will serve as a model for the future--Mabus said that he's pushing for the military to rely on 50 percent renewable energy by 2020. And with the military pushing so hard for new innovations in the field, the results will eventually drift down to us civilians. Hopefully these efforts can kickstart renewable energy--if it's good enough for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, it's surely good enough for your office.
It took more energy to make the solar cells than one could ever expect to recover from them. Silicon solar cells are simply a waste of energy until they either use much less power to create or convert way more power.
If that was true, which it's not, it wouldn't matter. The point for this application is that you can transport a panel into the area and have a consistent and dependable power source there indefinitely. Transportation is *the* cost we're concerned with here.
I take it these marines are using these solar panels in an area where they're relatively safe...
Having bright, reflective solar panels while trying to hide your presence from enemy spotters/aircraft would be kind of stupid, wouldn't it?
It's good that they're using this tech, but I don't see it as a practical solution for power for FOBs or other remote military camps that may be attacked because the solar panels are easy to spot from far away.
the amount of over all energy the military uses is insane. Don't quote me, but I read that something like 70% of all the oil that USA produces from its own oil supply all goes to the military. Anywhere they could cut consumption on non-renewable energy simply makes them a stronger force. The less dependent our forces are on oil the less wars we will have to fight in the future. Plenty of games and books are centered around the "certain" oil\energy wars of the near future. We basically just fought one in Iraq.
lnwolf41 I'm sure most of the power is for the command post with all the radio gear and sat uplinks. Still panels that might be seen miles away should be better than a noisy gas generator, not to metion the reduction in weight of both generator and fuel needed to run it. They could also set-up wind turbins on more permenent camps thus providing added power at night. Or set up P T runs on conveyor belts via a relay system to generate power, while keeping fit.
Just an FYI they used hand powered generators in WWII to power the radios during covert missions.
@rpenri, America isn't fighting too many oponents with any aircraft capability at all. Especially in Iraq. Also, it seems to be simply a ploy to encourage green development. Lastly, this is a quick and abrupt change for the military, sounds a little off. I could be wrong about all of this though.
Just some other thoughts regarding the visual safety of solar. The goal is to include solar panels into the windows and the general wrapping of vehicles, clothing and other surfaces such as shelters and possibly glasses. Once person brought up an excellent point on the fact that there is a reflection of light on the panels. But that isn't always the case. The idea of an FOB having reflective panels...well most FOB's aren't hidden. They are well known and protected by barriers of distance, dirt and lead. So having a facility that can be up and running in short order literally behind enemy lines without the need for a road to provide power is a major advancement.
The other subtle aspect here is that the FOB can now provide power to the neighboring villages if need be. So we now provide power to the wells, lights, ovens...this has pretty big ramifications.
Sleeping in a ditch, and still willing to lug a huge-ass solar generator?
I can see the some problems with this although I'm not saying it's not possible. First, these solar panels need to be tough, military personnel are NOT known for being gentle to equipment. Being in the Army I know that generally if the enviroment doesn't break a new piece of technology then a soldier will somewhere along the way. It's Murphy's Law. Secondly, a source of power needs to be constant and "clean" - i.e. no power spikes or dips, and right now I just don't see solar or alternative power doing that for the military. Maybe on a large scale at semi-permenant FOBs and Camps but smaller scale stuff would most likely only be able to supplement the current power infrastructure the military uses. If they can figure out how to use these new power sources to supply constant and clean power I'm all for leaving the diesel generator back home.
Those things being said, there are advantages. Solar power stations have very few moving parts to maintain like a generator does, makes no noise, and for anyone who's had to mess with a generator that's died in the middle of the night, either fixing or just re-fueling it, can appreciate never having to do that again. It's no fun when the generator powering what's keeping you warm or cool dies because it didn't get re-fueled or broke down.
As to the idea that solar panels would make the FOBs more visible...weeeellll...I'd say that's a moot point. I agree with beantown179 - because most of the places I've been to in combat zones are pretty well visible during the day and at night are lit up like friggin beacons. The way we fight right now is more along the lines of "Yhea we're right over here, so what?" Really, the idea of a hidden base doesn't apply to combat right now. So the reflectiveness of solar panels probably wouldn't matter in the end. The enemy tends to find something to shoot at when they get to shooting. That could even work out, if they shoot at shiny solar panels, put those far away from where the people are, or a bunch of inexpensive decoys. Maybe they'll waste time and ammo trying to hit those instead of the Dining Facility... Overall though with some advancement and a few years of the military breaking the stuff companies give us and making it work in combat I can see this happening.
I don't see why so many are willing to dismiss this as a silly idea. Look at the photo. That container looks like it could take a beating, and the panels fold up over each other for protection during transportation. It even looks like there might be room for some big honking batteries in the bottom. This isn't some hobby kit from the back of a magazine. Furthermore, if they can turn off the generators for a few hours during the day it equates to gallons of fuel not being burned and not being transported over IED and ambush riddled dirt roads. In the slightly (I hope) long term the generators could just be left there where needed. I read an article about a computer lab in a school who kept asking for gas for their generator so they can use the computers. Leave one of these there, problems solved... until it’s scuttled for parts/materials.
great idea exept for weight