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Clean Power U.S. Army trains to use more solar power for combat bases

Published on March 15th, 2012 | by Tina Casey


U.S. Army Trains for Combat with Solar Power

March 15th, 2012 by  


U.S. Army trains to use more solar power for combat bases

Solar-powered military units operating in war zones are the next move for the U.S. Army’s Net Zero program, which is gathering steam this spring. Last year, the Army began issuing backpack solar kits to soldiers in Afghanistan for operations on the go, and now the program is ramping it up a level with hybrid solar and wind power equipment designed to provide enough energy to help power small remote outposts.

Petroleum as the enemy of military efficiency

The Army program is separate from a U.S. Marines solar power demonstration also under way in Afghanistan, but it shares one key element: the need to cut the cost, risks, and operational drag caused by an over-reliance on petroleum products. Supply is a particularly pressing issue for remote bases in unstable regions,  and according to Army writer Denver Beaulieu-Hains supply issues become even more critical as operations in a theater wind down, as is the case in Afghanistan. Fewer personnel translates into less manpower available for transporting fuel and guarding convoys, for example.

Energy to the Edge and hybrid solar equipment

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is headquartered in Italy, is currently training in Germany to use the new equipment. The exercise is being conducted by the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, under the Energy to the Edge program. The program, which was developed last summer, is designed to reduce dependence on energy and water transportation for remote bases. It consists of a high-efficiency, high performance suite of alternative energy and power management systems that can operate seamlessly on solar, wind or petroleum products while also cutting down on noise and maintenance issues.

Training for Energy to the Edge

The 173rd is training to maintain and repair the new equipment as well as to operate it, and the soldiers are also training to interact with it. According to a statement from Col. Peter A. Newell, director of the Rapid Equipping Force:

“Understanding power and energy management at the small-unit level, platoons and companies, is a cultural change and not something we’ve done in the Army. Units may experience very long logistic resupply requirements on roads that are a great threat to the Soldiers that have to drive those routes. The guy that is training the Afghan National Army is the same guy that has to

secure the valleys and clear the roads for the dangerous convoy movement to sustain the COP [combat outpost] or FOB [forward operating base].”

Army as a culture warrior for clean energy

Translated into civilian terms, Newell is simply saying that energy users need to practice responsible energy management, not only for their own security and comfort but also in order to help cut the risks for those who supply it. The risks to local communities from oil drilling, coal mining and natural gas fracking are not equivalent to a combat zone but the short and long term impacts can be severe, including economic malaise, shortened lifespan and other significant public health issues. The Army’s Energy to the Edge program is a clear call for a cultural shift in attitudes toward energy consumption, and those who wave the “Support Our Troops” flag should be the first in line to support the U.S. Army…right?

–>For more on this topic, check out Breath on the Wind’s follow-up post and reply to some of the comments below: US Military and a Critical Energy Alternative.

Image: Winner, Military Photographer of the Year, Attribution Some rights reserved by expertinfantry.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • Rob

    We often quibble about the payback for solar panels when electricity is 10-20c/kwh and the benefit of EV’s or hybrids when gas is $3 per gallon. The reality for the US military is that once you add in security and shipping costs each gallon of gas delivered to a frontline unit in Iraq or Afghanistan is costing on average about $300, the same gas is used to generate electricity (the average generator produces about 6kwh per gallon, but lets be generous and call it 10kwh per gallon) costing about $30/kwh. None of that is to mention to 3000+ deaths directly related to attacks on fuel convoys in the two theatres.
    This means that technologies that have marginal economics in domestic use have the potential to save billions and hundreds if not thousands of lives in military use. Meanwhile R&D for military development will improve reliability and decrease costs overtime so that the inexorable march towards domestic parity is accelerated.


    I would request the US Army to donate the used solar hybrid power packs to the conflict affected people/ local community…The next step should be to grow their own vegetables with effluent from simple sanitation system and portable biomass digesters similar to DEWATS… It will create a goodwill for the future ambassadors of sustainable development.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think leaving solar behind is an excellent idea.

      It might cost as much to transport systems out as to replace them. And the goodwill from people who would have access to electricity would be valuable for relationship building.

  • We’ve got a follow-up post and reply to some of these comments up now: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/03/19/us-military-and-a-critical-energy-alternative/

  • Pingback: US Military and a Critical Energy Alternative - CleanTechnica()

  • Nice.

  • MicaOliver1810

    So you’re not only implying that whoever doesn’t fall in line with YOUR beliefs regarding energy and the environment does not support the troops, but that a single program represents a long-term shift? Impossible. Solar and wind power are unreliable as is( hey, they’re working SO well for the Africans, right?) but given the obvious attempt on your part to delegitimize everything else I don’t expect you to know that. This column is a joke.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I suspect your level of understanding might rise a bit were you to do a tour as a fuel truck driver….

  • Michaelmmumford

    This article is bullshit political manuevering and the harms associated with fracking are merely conjecture at this point.

  • can any one say to me,how i can be US MARINE CORPS?! I reley wona be membership of this army!! Thx. !! I living in the Serbia!!

  • Captivation

    I really like how you linked “Support Our Troops” to the ideal of clean energy. It reminds me that people’s world view are composites of numerous smaller memes. It hard to predict which notion will actually turn the tide, but debunk enough of them and you eventually get to a tipping point.

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