Elizabeth, one of the biggest problems in military operations is supply. Long supply lines for bulky supplies such as fuel and batteries can slow down a force. With lower power electronics and renewables the soldier can, as your article discusses, become more mobile. The hallmark of the US soldier is mobility and firepower. This is another great example of how the Army is doing research to improve its already impressive capability.
It looks like the Air Force wins in terms of military renewable energy projects. The biggest military solar power plant in the US has just been completed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, a 16.4 megawatt installation that is expected to save about $500,000 in electricity costs yearly and provide about 35 percent of the base's electricity needs.
The Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Initiatives Task Force announced 15 contracts for military solar power, which is pretty impressive, but that was a preliminary step involving the formation of a pool of eligible bidders for future projects.
far911, I agree with you, and actually there are a few things like this that are becoming available for consumers. I am not sure about solar harvesters but I have written about energy-harvesting clothing that people can wear that can help charge things when they are not near electrical outlets.
You mention hiking, and actually a story I wrote about a company that has invented energy-harvesting insoles for hiking shoes: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=267997
This could provide the type of charging you're talking about.
Actually, @shehan, the point of the solar chargers is that they reduce the weight soldiers carry. They need less batteries this weigh. They themselves I don't think are very heavy--less than the weight of all the batteries a solider would carry anyway.
Yes, Lou, it's interesting how solar is becoming a way the Army can achieve other goals, making the military an investor in green energy without the energy aspect of it being the most important part of the equation, if you understand what I mean. So by using an alternative energy source, they are making soldiers more mobile and achieving some of their own goals.
For the military, i have heard that adopting solar is more than financial or other benefits (significant though they may be) - it is a matter of national security. I heard a story some months ago about a military base in Nevada. The commander added solar PV to the base when he realized that his entire base was dependent on electricity supplied to him on a single, miles-long line through the desert, and that his base could be brought completely down if that power were cut by terrorism or an outage or just maintenance on the line. You can imagine, it's even worse in overseas bases. Just like reducing the weight (and bulk) that soldiers have to carry, it's all related to operational readiness and the ability to do their jobs no matter the circumstances.
That's really interesting, fm. I didn't hear that perspective from the Army, but I doubt they would tell a reporter something like that. But it makes perfect sense as to why they may want to be off a traditional grid and use something more flexible like solar.
@fm – yes most military operations on deserts currently rely on one electricity connection which travels across the desserts. If this connection is broken somewhere the entire military operation would be down.
Diesel tankers clearly have their vulnerabilities... But that PV farm would be impossible to miss with mortars and not that hard to hit with the kinds of rockets popular at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. That's a pretty big perimeter to patrol, too. Maybe it's good for an installation deep in the US with a single power feed... Maybe it'll work long enough to recoup the investment. It's definitely good for shovel-ready companies.
As far as "lightening the soldiers' load" goes? Assuming the battery weight vs. charger weight threshold has been crossed, and the logistics of dealing with worn out rechargables has been resolved, it would be more accurate to say that the percentage of weight in batteries is reduced. The soldier will carry all of the weight a soldier is capable of carrying. Any battery saved just makes room for more ammo or water.
@tweet, the disposal of used batteries and the reduction in the disposal of used batteries is quite important in all areas of action against "hostiles", since a string of "dead" batteries can still be used to detonate an IED. That was demonstrated in asia 45 years ago and it is still a real problem. De-militarizing used up batteries is a miserable task. So providing a means to recharge battery packs is worthwhile. And while current areas of conflict generally provide lots of sun, that may not be the case in the future. So the solar charging system must be just one tool in the set, not the whole package.
Solar arrays in a base in the US is a good idea and an excellent use of the technology. In addition it is a good place to gain additional experience on just how well the systems can perform.
@William K. I agree that there should be more tools in the set of energy options. I recently ran across an invention by Martin Wickett that turns random motion (think wind and ocean waves) into energy. It can harvest movement in X,Y,Z directions. It's called the WITT engine.
The neatest energu capture that I heard of, and one of the very earliest, was when somebody on the French Riviara put their Hi Fi speaker enclosures out on their balcony and were able to light a small light bulb with the voltage generated by the speakers working as microphones and picking up the sound of the surf. How aqbout arrays of microphones along our expressways to convert the noise power into electricity to power the electronic signs? Probabl7y the very simplest approach, and perhaps cheaper than solar-cells. An interesting thought, at least.
Actually, I recall that some energy harvesting of that kind is going on in Israeli highways to capture road vibration to power the traffic lights. We all know that our cable modems and DVRs are not really asleep, and that they require significant amounts of energy. All of this adds up. Energy sources are all around us. Look at the Witt energy device that can capture random motion in the XYZ axes and convert it to electrical energy. I am really hopefull that carbon fuels will not be needed in a few years. Most nations are striving in this direction. Think of the jobs that these new technologies will generate.
Interesting. I hadn't heard about it in Israel. I know that in Toulouse, France the sidewalks use piezoelectric power to keep the street lamps on.
The first time I went to Israel in 1999, I was struck by the number of solar panels in cities and towns. It made perfect sense. Japan has also heavily invested in making the country solar power efficient instead of nuclear dependent since the late 90's.
Nadine--Several years ago I had an opportunity to travel for GE Appliances to visit several distributors in the middle-east; UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The overall trip was about three weeks so I got a good look at facilities and infrastructure. I, like you, was absolutely taken back by the number of solar installations--primarily on individual homes and smaller businesses. The use at that time was for water heating and not home heating. I have stayed in touch with two or three of those contacts and am told now that harvesting of solar energy is not only for water heating but to contribute power to the electrical grid. Of course we are talking about an area having 85% + sunny days per year.
Certainly every area has its own benefits and disadvantages. The areas you visited are truly and heavily vast on sunlight so solar will be successful . But disadvantages are in other source of energy too like hydro where their is lack of rain our water resources it won't work. Windmill suits open areas with regular winds... so I say every area should use the advantage for energy source. Beside sun is like every where so a certain percentage can be achieved every where.
Far, certainly not all areas have the same resources. So different systems would work in different areas. The problem that I see is that wind power and solar power don't usually supply all of the power that is needed. Of course in many areas they will use all of the power that those sources can provide, but then a limit is reached, and to advance, more power is needed. That is where other generation means and long-distance distribution come into play. And that often includes the use of carbon based fuels.
I didn't know about that harvesting going on in Israel, 78RPM, but I am not surprised. There are some major breakthroughs happening in vibration energy-harvesting that I have read about. People are really starting to see the power, literally, of reusing so much of the ambient energy around us all the time. Watch this space--these inventions are happening now and are paving the way for energy anywhere, anytime.
@78RPM, it would probably be a very quiet place if our hydrocarbon fuels were not being used. And probably most of the people would be dead, since the vast majority of power now comes from the varios forms of carbon fuels that have stored up the sun's energy for thousands of years. If you look you will see that most of civilization depends on fuels to raise them above subsistence, where folks are spending most of their time gathering up the next meal. Solar power can help, and wind power can help, the majority of non-fuel-based power presently comes from hydroelectric generating systems. And while those systems do power parts of our country there are a lot of places that don't have that source of power available. Making matters much worse, marketers are working as hard as they can to create all kinds of useless gimmicks that consume power and don't do anything real towards improving our quality of life. [Please understand that I do not consider keeping up with the latest fad as improving th quality of life for anybody.]
The best that we can do is work at improving efficiency of everything and working to avoid wasting power and energy. This will include considering secondary and tertiary results of all changes that are suggested. Decisions based on emotions and not backed by correct information have been responsible for a number of our present problems.
@William K. Yes, prosperity for many of earth's population has been improved by using carbon fuels. But the human population has surpassed 7 billion and demand goes up. There is no question that there is a whole lot of carbon in the ground. But look at the chemical equations of combustion. Burning it takes a lot of oxygen out of our thin atmosphere and replaces it with CO2 and methane.
The rise in prosperity of the people of China has come with a price -- more birth defects, high cancer rates, intolerable air and water. It's not just about the money. The Chinese people are starting to demand more regulation -- something that might start to look like our EPA.
The coal industry is on its way to the buggy whip industry. Countries around the world know that we cannot continue down the carbon fuel path. I am not "emotional" and I'm not an idealogue. I welcome the contributions of the engineers and scientists who see a way past the carbon industries. It seems that it is only in the U.S. where we have this anti-science coalition of Fundamentalist religion and coal and oil companies. I hope that the U.S. gets beyond this and becomes a net exporter of the technologies that will replace the carbon industries. I think we can do it.
78, I am certainly not commenting about any fundamentalists in any aspect. It is primarily our legislative bodies that pass various laws based on a fairly serious lack of real data that is the problem. And it does not seem like the oil companies would be bankrolling lobbyists to push some of the dumber choices that are made.
My thinking is that we should conserve coal for now because somewhere in the future a way will be found to utilize it in a far better manner. I don't happen to know what that method will be , but it is almost inevitable that a far better process will be invented. Of course you should recall a bunch of years ago when it was predicted that we would run out of fuel, which I think was predicted to happen in 1962, although I may be a bit off on the date. And it seems that we have not run out, nor do we really seem to be running out, except in the imagination of those who see that claim as a good way to command higher prices. Intense greed is a powerful motivator, especially among the morally bankrupt, it seems.
As for China, if we would like to defeat them as an economic opponent then our best move would be to convince them that our EPA and OSHA are the way to success. Being afflicted with those two organizations would halt China's rapid economic development more effectively than anything else we could do.
@shehan, Well, that's a good question. I saw the report on Bloomberg business news awhile back. It's one of those shows they run on weekends and holidays when the markets are not open. They showed other methods that Israel uses to reduce dependence upon oil.
The reality was that generating power from noise was not at all efficient, and probably could not ever be useful. It was presented as an interesting thing that somebody discovered.
And in another area you will find that officers DO NOT carry artillary shells, and probaly never carry amunition for other than their own use. There are a few exceptions, of course, but not very many of them. There are a whole lot more folks in the infantry and the support parts of the service who do that hard and dirty stuff.
And how far could you sprint with a hundred pounds or so on your back? In the thick of combat those burdens can be quite a handicap. It can be done when the stress level is high enough, but it burns one's energy just the same. So sometimes a lot of stuff does wind up being left behind.
The solar power system is a good idea but it may not be a good choice for those in the thick of the action.
I think that I may have rambled a bit in that third paragraph. Sorry about that.
Yeah, a huge array would be tough to miss! But that can also be an advantage - consider this. These arrays could be designed (the one in the photo probably isn't) to be a highly decentralized installation. Imagine if the thing covered a 10-acre field - you'd have to destroy large portions of the array to seriously impact production, and doing so would probably take you awhile (and you would certainly be noticed!). I'm not saying it's not vulnerable and would certainly be a great target, & would probably endure its share of vandalism. But i am saying that it could be made somewhat resilient to attack just by its sheer size.
What does concern me, though, is the U S military's penchant to buy stuff and then not fund the inspection and maintenance of the stuff they just bought. They get fancy new stuff, but then it goes to waste because mice chewed through power cables & nobody noticed that they weren't getting any output. Hopefully those who procured these things had enough foresight to set up long-term monitor/inspection/maintenance contracts.
Yes, Nadine, that is exactly the point and would be a good impetus for more use of alternative energy. The Army it seems has little interest in supporting "green" initiatives, but they they want to achieve their mission goals. Using alternative energy is one way to do that. If other businesses/organizations would look at their problems this way, they might become more "green" without intending.
Elizabeth, thanks for sharing the info.
Reduce the weight of the shoulder carrying pack will difanotlh speed up the move and also it will minimize the possibilities of breakdown the powersuply by having it on the site.
It's really nice to see the efforts being done to facilitate the army using renewables @Elizabeth. Apart from the things you mentioned above, this initiative would also help to provide energy to remote areas where the Army is often located. Small Solar Systems could be installed in these areas, providing sufficient energy to run essential equipment that could help the soldiers. There are a lot of obstacles in providing electricity through grid to these far off places, so this could be a preferable alternative.
It great that at a far off area solar power is providing 19000 personnels with basic energy need.Producing 3200 MWh at one place encourages other to do so at other areas by minimising dependency on external sources and increases the effeciency.
@pubudu – yes not every camp can use this as a power source, some of them face winter where the sun light might not be sufficient for charging. In such situations the solar chargers would not help much.
I have a good friend whose grandson just returned from Afghanistan. His unit was chosen to apply and report on a battery pack of the type you detailed in you post. The bottom line is--when you are responsible for carrying a 100 + pound pack of communication equipment, reduction in weight is a tremendous advantage in overcoming fatigue. In theater, communication is the life blood between forward troops and support with their base. According to my friend, the solar array is a "harden" system rugged enough to survive most if not all missions and it works. At least it did for them on multiple deployments. Great post Elizabeth. Very informative.
Thank you, bobjengr. When reporting these stories I don't always get to hear real-world perspective and it's really good to hear about your friend's grandson and to know that these inventions are relieving the burden for soldiers, and actually working well.
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