Renewable energy options are very important these days for the United States Army, especially when it concerns soldiers stationed in remote combat outposts. Soldiers face a barrage of challenges when it comes to having available energy — a necessity for everything from powering radios, laptops, and GPS units to turning on a light switch.
U.S. Army scientists are actively researching methods to harness energy from the sun and wind. For instance, Marnie de Jong, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), is helping to develop renewable-energy based microgrids that work independently of traditional grid power.
“There has been a larger demand from the field for fuel reduction and power in remote locations,” de Jong said. “As that demand has increased, we have increased our focus in those areas.
“Microgrids will be able to take solar, wind and batteries and use them together. You can use solar when there is no wind available. Different pieces of the puzzle work better in different places. By making this a solution set, you can take what you need given your location.”
To provide alternative power sources to soldiers in combat, de Jong and her colleagues at RDECOM’s Communications–Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center are developing two systems:
- Reusing Existing Natural Energy from Wind and Solar, or RENEWS
- Renewable Energy for Distributed Undersupplied Command Environments, or REDUCE
According to de Jong, CERDEC started work on RENEWS in 2009 under an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act program for photovoltaics in which it partnered with RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory and Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. The team has developed RENEWS prototypes and is finishing internal testing.
“The RENEWS system is completely renewable energy [with] solar and wind components,” de Jong said. “It’s meant for smaller, mostly communications systems in very remote locations that are difficult to get to re-supply fuel or [where] it might be dangerous. It would be a self-sustaining system.”
RENEWS is designed to power two or three laptops continuously as long as there is power coming daily from the solar panels or wind turbine, she said. The storage component will be able to provide power at peak demand for about five hours when energy is not being generated by the renewable components.
RENEWS components weigh about 100 pounds, and it is stored in two cases weighing about 70 pounds each — mobile, but not exactly lightweight.
If all goes as planned, the RENEWS and REDUCE systems are designed to be complementary, resulting in power-grid technology that addresses power generation, distribution, load, renewables, and storage.
A major concern for military logisticians is securing routes for fuel-truck convoys. According to Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, environment and technology, said one in 46 convoys suffers a casualty.
“There will be a reduction in fuel that is necessary for regular operations,” de Jong said. “That is one of the major concerns in the field in transporting fuel — logistics and safety. We are working to reduce fuel consumption by supplementing generators with renewable energy sources.”
Work on the three-year REDUCE program is in the early stages, de Jong said. It is designed to be towed on a Humvee trailer.
“The key behind the system is the intelligent power management and distribution, as well as the plug and play capability for devices. Automatic-device detection and power distribution make it a network of power systems that is capable of adjusting based on mission demands and needs,” she said.
Scientists and engineers across the Army focus on removing obstacles for soldiers. By integrating smart power systems, CERDEC’s aim is to allow soldiers to concentrate on their missions instead of monitoring power systems.
The RENEWS and REDUCE systems will also contribute to the Army’s goal of increasing energy efficiency and lessening the reliance on fossil fuels.
“Renewable energy solutions are helping to reduce the carbon footprint. They generate energy more efficiently on-site from renewable sources. It’s good for the Army, good for the Soldier, and good for the environment,” de Jong said.
One day this kind of mobile energy technology might be shared with others in need who live outside combat areas.
Source: US Army