Keystone, Schmeystone: US Marines Want More Portable Solar Power To Fight The War Of The Future

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We’ve been hearing a lot of hot air about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from members of Congress who know better — or at least they should know better. If they really do “support our troops,” instead of pushing for a 20th century-style oil transportation project they’d be making sure that the Department of Defense is moving full steam ahead with the 21st century fuels of the future, including portable solar power.

Those of you who have already used some portable solar equipment know exactly what a US Marine means when he says “The GREENS puts a feeling of extra security in your head.” He’s talking about a plug ‘n’ play, portable solar-in-a-suitcase system specially designed for the Marines by the Office of Naval Research. So, with the Keystone pipeline in mind, let’s take a look at what portable solar power means in terms of military effectiveness.

US Marines use GREENS portable solar power in Blue Chromite exercise
US Marines use GREENS portable solar power in Blue Chromite exercise (cropped, courtesy of US Marine Corps, by Lance Cpl. Abbey Perria).

GREENS Portable Solar Power Vs. Diesel

GREENS stands for the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System. Basically, it’s a plug ‘n’ play solar power system that we’ve called solar-in-a-suitcase, because it folds out from a sturdy metal platform that closes up like a suitcase for ease of transportation.

That feel-good quote cited above came from a radio operator after a recent field test of the GREENS system, which took place as part of the recent “Blue Chromite” exercise at Camp Schwab in Japan.

If the US Marines and feel-good portable solar power don’t quite gel together in your mind, think about the mobility afforded by plug-and-play solar power systems in difficult environments, compared to the sluggish — and all too often deadly — supply chain logistics demanded by conventional diesel generators. Now you’re on to something.

GREENS Portable Solar Power And TROPEC

We covered GREENS back in 2009, when the portable solar power system debuted after spending just one year in development. We haven’t checked it out since then but we just got a tip about the Blue Chromite exercise from our new friends over at TROPEC, the Transformative Reductions in Operational Energy Consumption network.


If you didn’t know we had a TROPEC, neither did we before they pulled our sleeve. It’s worth a bit of a digression to dig into the energy supply and consumption issues TROPEC is addressing, in terms of future military effectiveness in tropical environments. Here’s what they’re all about:

TROPEC is focused on identifying, assessing, and facilitating the transition of innovations that save energy at expeditionary base camps… [aka forward operating bases], with a particular emphasis on tropical environments (defined as high vegetation, high mean temperature, high average rainfall, and/or high and persistent humidity).


Since expeditionary base camps are temporary, the energy required to transport equipment is sometimes more significant than the energy used to operate the equipment…In addition, military doctrine is changing to require even greater mobility for troops, which puts even more of a premium on small, lightweight equipment.

Apparently the Marine Corps has a goal of ensuring that it can power its base camps, excluding vehicles and aircraft, without using conventional fuel, so GREENS has a big role to play.

Portable Solar Power Put To The Test

Those of you who follow military affairs know that the Obama Administration foresees that the shrinking role of fossil fuels in the global energy landscape will mean that our strategic alliances in oil-producing nations will also shrink. Despite ISIL or IS or whatever you want to call it, the attention — and the potential for future action — is shifting to the Pacific theater.

The US Marines and Army have already been deploying GREENS and other portable/transportable alternative fuel systems to forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Iraq for a couple of years now, but the Pacific environment is of course quite different, so we’re guessing that all eyes were on GREENS to see how it helped to fulfill the portable solar power aspect of the Blue Chromite exercise.

It seems to have gone off swimmingly. Here’s the “before” picture, as described by the MCIPAC consolidated public affairs office:

Generators can be bulky, time consuming and require a large group to set up.

And here’s the “after:”

The GREENS can take five to 15 minutes to set by one, small group. The system can be carried by one person and is about the size of a suitcase.

Did we also mention that once GREENS is set up and hooked to a microgrid with energy storage, you can kiss those cumbersome diesel supply lines goodbye:

Smaller supply lines that traditionally move dangerous resources, such as diesel fuel used by generators, can reduce the footprint and security needed to operate in unfamiliar environments. Fuel convoys have often been a key target to enemy forces due to their slow, predictable travel and highly explosive contents.

When you talk about the Marines you’re also talking US Navy, so if you want any more affirmation about the role of low and zero carbon fuels in our national defense, read up on what Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has to say, or check out the US Army’s transition to alternative energy.

Like we said, Keystone, Schmeystone.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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