U.S. Soldiers have been using solar power in the Afghanistan war for a couple of years now, with everything from solar backpack kits to large stationary arrays. One project especially worth noting is a group of ten 28-kilowatt hybrid solar/diesel generators that have been deployed for Special Forces Soldiers in remote outposts. When you tote up the benefits, it’s clear that solar power is a winner, at least in war zones.
1. Solar Power Saves Money
Richard G. Kidd IV, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability, recently described the project in detail for David Vergun of the Army News Service.
One key benefit, of course, is cutting down on the cost of fuel. According to Kidd, the overall daily fuel use per soldier averaged one gallon during WWII and now it has zoomed up to 20 gallons. A good chunk of that amount goes to electricity needed for powering today’s geared-up operations.
The hybrid solar/diesel units, provided by the company SunDial Capital Partners, cut that in half, to roughly 10 gallons.
Given the high cost of shipping fuel to remote outposts in Afghanistan ($400 per gallon, according to the Pentagon), it’s no surprise that the units paid for themselves in less than three months.
2. Solar Power Saves Planes and Trucks
Another consideration is the transportation resources required for conventional fuel distribution, compared to solar power and other renewable sources that can be scavenged on site.
By cutting down on fuel deliveries, the hybrid solar units free up aircraft and trucks for other missions. According to Kidd, the project has resulted in the equivalent of pulling 185 trucks out of fuel convoys.
In turn, that reduces the risk for Soldiers assigned to secure air drops and fuel convoys.
For a graphic look at the true cost of conventional fuel delivery in a war zone, check out the forthcoming documentary The Burden.
3. Solar Power Saves Wear and Tear
The lifespan and repair logistics of conventional diesel generators also compare poorly to the solar/hybrid units.
According to Kidd, the typical generator used by the Army often runs at only 20 to 30 percent capacity. That can enable unburned fuel to escape, which wastes fuel and damages the engine.
In contrast, the solar panels are linked in a smart microgrid. They can be taken offline and put back up as needed in order to keep the generators running at maximum efficiency.
The result is an improved lifespan for the equipment and less down time. It also frees up overburdened mechanics to work on other tasks.
4. Solar Power is Just Plain Better
SunDial’s system includes battery storage, and Kidd notes that stored energy is better suited to powering the high-performance electronic gear used by modern armies. That includes sensors, cameras, and communications equipment.
According to Kidd, operational readiness has “gone up dramatically wherever solar has been deployed.”
5. Solar Power Builds Strong Communities
Here in the U.S., the Army’s Net Zero initiative envisions alternative energy, water and waste management projects at Army bases that also provide benefits to their host communities.
That’s already coming into play in Afghanistan. Each solar hybrid unit is designed to provide energy for 30 soldiers, but Kidd notes that the units pump out enough for local villages, too.
The units are also fully mobile and transportable, which leaves the door open to relocating them to nearby villages when U.S. troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan.
Image: Courtesy of Army News Service
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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+.