The invention also reduces the number of batteries that are discarded and also extends the time period before a platoon needs to be resupplied with new batteries. Currently, solar is the primary renewable source of energy the Army is using on a wide scale because it has found to be a viable and cost-effective form of power, Kidd said. Aside from the Fort Carson installation, the Army also has solar projects at other bases in the US, including Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Detrick, Mass.; and Fort Irwin, Calif.
The Army also has done and continues to engage in research to ascertain whether wind energy would be an option, but until now it hasn't found a viable or economically feasible project to suit its mission. "The challenge with wind turbines is the Army conducts low level flight operations on most of our installations," Kidd said. "Even if there is a good quality of wind [for energy harvesting] it can't come at the expense of good training or the safety of our pilots." Because of these and other factors, the Army currently does not have a wind project "that we consider viable from an Army perspective or an economic perspective," he said.
Other renewable projects
While the Army may not have any significant wind-energy deployments at the moment, wind is included as part of at least one renewable-energy project under way at the military branch.
The US Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command's (RDECOM) Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center is working on a microgrid system that Infantry squads in Afghanistan are carrying with them called portable solar-based charger of "flex-film solar panels" that they use to recharge their batteries. They combine a series of solar panels and a wind turbine that work together as a self-sustaining communications system for remote locations.
The project is in part aimed at reducing the risk and cost associated with bringing fossil fuels to soldiers in combat situations. As envisioned by the Army, the RENEWS grid is fairly compact, weighing about 100 lb and stored in two cases weighing about 70 lb each. The system is designed to power two or three laptops simultaneously, depending on the amount of daily power coming from its energy sources.
The Army is currently testing RENEWS in various demonstrations and exercises to develop user feedback, David Teicher, a chemical engineer within the Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) Power Division, told Design News.
"CERDEC often works directly with soldiers to gather tactical feedback about the suitability of systems in the field," he told us. "The feedback we receive from soldiers will help us make improvements on the existing system, as well as help guide improvements on our other renewable efforts." One of those other efforts is Renewable Energy for Distributed Under-supplied Command Environments (REDUCE), what Teicher called the "next stepping stone" for renewable systems after RENEWS.
REDUCE systems are trailer-mounted and incorporate renewable resources, including sun and wind, with energy storage devices to provide power in the 1kW to 5kW range. The renewable resources provide power to the energy storage devices that are then used to supply AC and DC power when needed. "REDUCE aims to lighten the load on the soldier by reducing the cost and logistics burden of delivering fuel to small combat outposts with an intelligent, renewable energy mobile power system that enables remote power generation," Teicher said. The Army is using RENEWS on a smaller scale to prove the concept of renewable energy systems in the field and then plans to scale up to a system like REDUCE, he added.