The legendary competition between the branches of the U.S. armed forces has taken on a sustainable twist. Take portable solar power, for example. The Marines just introduced a portable solar power system this spring, and a few weeks later the Air Force kicked in with a portable solar system of its own. Now the U.S. Army has entered the fray with a portable battery recharging kit called the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS), which features a 62-watt solar panel “blanket” tucked into a backpack. The system was just deployed in Afghanistan this summer.
The U.S. Military and Portable Power
Aside from the issue of peak oil, military planners have also been concerned about the expense of supplying fossil fuels to remote bases, along with the risk posed to troops in transportation convoys. That’s in addition to the “logistical nightmare” of supplying batteries to bases and troops in the field, where power-hungry portable electronic equipment is playing an increasingly important role. Part of the solution is to harvest energy on site, and that’s where portable solar comes in. The Marines have already developed solar panels that fold into a suitcase-like unit for easy transportation, and the Air Force recently contracted with Lockheed Martin to outfit shipping containers as portable solar power units.
Solar Power for the U.S. Army
Each REPPS weighs only ten pounds. The flexible 62-watt solar panel can recharge many common military batteries in a few hours, but wait, there’s more. The panels can also run electronic devices, and they can be linked to provide more power. They can convert AC to DC and if there is no sun, they can scavenge power from wall outlets, vehicles (through the cigarette lighter), and even from partially spent disposable batteries.
Solar Power Ambassadors from the Army
The first REPPS went out to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Logar, Afghanistan, and so far the reviews have been great. When these troops come home (soon, we hope) they could turn out to be powerful new voices in support of more alternative, renewable energy for the civilian world, too.
Image: Backpacks courtesy of U.S. Army on flickr.com, being distributed to school children in Afghanistan.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.