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Published on March 14th, 2016 | by Saurabh Mahapatra


Israeli Military To Replace All Diesel Generators With Solar Panels

March 14th, 2016 by  

The Israeli Defence Forces are looking to make a significant shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to meet its energy demand.

According to media reports, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) plans to replace all its diesel power generators with solar power panels. The reports do not mention any specific timeline for this transition.

While the IDF admits that complete dependence on solar power may not be possible for its continuous operation, it intends to make use of all incentives being offered by the government to contribute towards a general transition of the country towards renewable energy.

A pilot power project started in 2014 examined the use of solar power combined with batteries and generators for backup. The IDF has also ordered installation of solar power panels over a million square feet for powering Israeli Air Force bases.

The Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Ministry seeks to increase the share of renewable energy in the country’s electricity consumption to 10% by 2020 and 17% by 2030. The Israeli legislature is currently considering a draft renewable energy law that may convert these targets into a government-backed regulation.

Israel is among the growing number of countries whose armed forces are looking to adopt renewable energy technologies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and contribute towards the national targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Multiple arms of the US armed forces have been working on adoption of renewable energy technologies for a long time now. Last year, the Indian armed forces pledged to set up 300 MW of solar power capacity, to contribute towards the country’s target to have 100 GW operational solar power capacity by March 2022.

Image Credit: א.ינאי | Public Domain

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About the Author

A young solar enthusiast from India keeping an eye on all regulatory, policy and market updates from one of the fastest emerging solar power markets in the world.

  • thinkmorebelieveless

    Just how realistic is it to replace front line diesel generators with solar PV ? How big of a solar array would be needed to replace a continuous duty 30 kW diesel gen set ? Seems like this would be an easy target from even small arms fire plus its deployment would be “giving away your position”. You also have to consider that these panels and their support structures would have to be ruggedized to survive in a military environment and therefore likely heavier. And remember that you have to keep the panels clean for rated output. If you have to “bug out” do you go around gathering up all your solar panels, today you just hook up to the gen set and fuel trailer and get rolling.

    I understand the dangers of hauling and storing flammable fuels. Wouldn’t it be a better idea if we left the solar panels in a safe place and just transport fully charged high capacity batteries to the front and bring the discharged ones back to be charged up ?

    • nitpicker357

      “Let’s fire at that military base. Never mind the military personnel, we’ll shoot the solar panels! That’ll chase ’em out of here!”

      I’m … having trouble accepting this as a plausible scenario. Solar panels are very light, and fairly cheap. I imagine ruggedized solar panels are light, and not expensive. Do you think we could put arrows pointing to our vulnerable solar arrays to help them find them, rather than anything else on a military base?

      • thinkmorebelieveless

        So did you figure out the size of the solar installation needed to replace the continuous duty 30 kW gen set ? How many shot up or dirt covered panels does it take to seriously degrade the installation ?

        In today’s military electricity does more than keep the lights on, it powers the tactical electronics that militaries have become so dependent on. Therefore taking out the electrical power source would be a priority target. You can hide the diesel generator in a cave or bunker, solar panels have to be out in the open.

        I think that the mobile batteries is a better idea

        • Bob_Wallace

          You’d first have to determine how much of that 30 kW is being used. The generator is designed for peak demand, it might be producing much, much less power on average.

          As for damaged panels, if micro-inverters are used a panel with a hole blown it would simply drop out. And it’s not likely that the panels would be mounted on the outside wall of the compound.

          Mobile batteries create the same, if not greater, problem for the personnel doing the transport. Move the solar system in one load. Bring in a generator and some fuel for backup. That’s it. No more trucks running back and forth past snipers and IEDs.

          • thinkmorebelieveless

            OK let me see if I can figure out how many panels would be needed to replace the continuous duty 30 kW diesel unit. 30 kW X 24 hr per day produces 720 kWh per day. Assuming a capacity factor of .15 then the capacity of the solar installation would be 30 kW divided by .15 to yield 200 kW. Assuming 4 panels per kW then 4 X 200= 800 panels. Assuming 1.7 square meters per panel then the installation would be 1360 square meters (14,634 square feet, around 1/3 acre).

            Unless I got the math wrong, this seems like a big target.
            From what I read the US military has generators from 5 to 60 kW….so 30 is a good average. There is also in the US military a move to have significant electrical generating capacity on all vehicles. So if the vehicles can now supply the electricity then the use of dedicated generators is reduced. If this is the case in Israel’s army then the replacement of diesel generators with solar PV might just be PR.

            Also, the large storage batteries can be airlifted in and out to avoid snipers and IEDs…..maybe by unmanned aerial vehicles.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you hit the array of panels with a RPG some panels are destroyed.

            If you hit a fuel tanker with a RPG a tanker is destroyed and the driver is killed.

            (I didn’t check your math but it looks like you assume the diesel gen is fully loaded at all times. That’s a bad assumption.)

            As for airlifting in charged batteries and taking the discharged batteries back out, I’m pretty sure it would be a lot cheaper to deliver fuel by air. And that’s too expensive.

          • thinkmorebelieveless

            The 30 kW is somewhat near the average generator size, not necessarily running a 30 kW generator at capacity. You may find though that the diesel generators are designed to be the most efficient at near capacity like most stationary engines are.
            Airlifting fuel is not a great idea since so little of it’s energy actually ends up as electricity given the inefficiencies of combustion engines and rotary generators. Batteries though should deliver 90+ % of their capacity as electricity.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you airlift in a Tesla battery pack you provide enough energy to move a luxury car about 250 miles.

            If you airlife in the same weight in gasoline you provide enough energy to move a luxury car about 5,800 miles.

            Diesel pack more energy per pound than gasoline.

    • Nolan Thiessen

      SimpliPhi has a product like this.

      • thinkmorebelieveless

        Thank You
        Storage is the answer

    • Brian

      Yes, but as convoys move drained batteries back to the rear, they become east targets like the fuel convoys, that must resupply fuel. Solar panels are no more of a target than the diesel generators. Israel has few tree’s so their military can’t camouflage well anyway, and the bright glare from solar panels won’t give their positions away anymore than they already are. Using solar panels to generate electricity on sight is the best option.

      • thinkmorebelieveless

        The batteries can be transported by airlift, ultimately by unmanned aircraft. The solar panel installation would be a much bigger target than a diesel generator and fuel tanker and the diesel unit can be protected inside a bunker unlike the solar panels.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Compare the weight of batteries in a 200 mile range EV with the weight of gasoline to move an ICEV the same distance.

          The Tesla S pack weighs about 1,200 pounds. That would be 193.5 gallons of gasoline at 6.2 pounds per gallon. Five thousand, eight hundred miles in a 30 mpg ICEV.

          Battery swapping a forward base makes no sense.

          Aircraft moving in and out of a forward base would be very attractive targets.

          • thinkmorebelieveless

            Somewhat unrelated; how much battery capacity has to be provided to support these solar panel systems ? I would think that the military would demand several days of storage in case the sun doesn’t shine for a couple days.

            And you know, anything moving in and out of a base, aircraft, trucks, etc is an attractive target. I think I would take my chances in a 100+ mph aircraft with threat countermeasures and many degrees of movement freedom rather than a 30 mph unarmored truck with limited freedom of movement.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I think once more I’ve reached the end of my thinkmorebelieveless tolerance….

  • Brian

    Excellent news. Although I do have to wonder given Israel’s abundant sunshine, and desert areas, if these targets will be achieved much quicker. A massive increase in residential solar, could also help speed up Israel’s transition away from dirty fossil fuels.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I have to wonder why Israel is not a world leader in terms of solar installed and EVs on the road. This is a very technologically advanced country with plenty of available capital. One would think they would see moving off fossil fuels as a national priority.

      • Bob_Wallace

        From the southern tip of Israel (Eilat) to Jerusalem is only 319 km, about 180 miles. A Leaf with the ability to rapid charge could make that with one stop. It’s less than half that distance from Jerusalem to the northern tip.

        A Bolt or Mod3 should make about any drive someone would want to make on a single charge.

      • Brian

        Agreed 100%. Every nation should strive to be 100% energy independent, and get off using dirty fossil fuels. Also, by ending expensive imports of dirty fossil fuels, all nations, clean up their air, save money, and benefit. Because of it’s small size, electric cars would be perfect for Israel. Their battery swap experiment, Better Place, failed, but it may not matter. Just over 80 well placed Fastned solar powered electric car charging stations across the country, could probably provide most of the electricity they need to transition into 100% electric cars. Hopefully, the Chevy Bolt may be a game changer, that finally cements the transition into electric cars worldwide.

      • neroden

        Israel is tightly allied to Saudi Arabia, even though they both deny it in public. This is probably the main reason they’ve remained addicted to oil.

      • MorinMoss

        Israel was supposed to be the proving ground for Better Place but that didn’t work out and was a huge loss for the wealthy Israeli who was the primary backer.
        But the country was also an early leader in solar thermal – but don’t seem to have deployed much of it domestically.
        The SEGS units in the Mojave were installed by Luz Industries, an Israeli company that morphed into Brightsource, the builders of the Ivanpah solar tower facility.

  • Frank

    The experience in India and many other places is the more you install, the cheaper it gets. Also seems like it might not be bad for energy security.

  • Nolan Thiessen

    A couple years ago the Pentagon said it cost $400 per gallon to get diesel to remote US installations in Afghanistan. A quick Google search is telling me that a gallon of diesel gives 42kWh of electricity. That’s almost $10/kWh*. Of course it makes sense to switch to solar.
    *If my Google math checks out.

    • Frank

      Another good idea is insulating the air conditioned tents in the desert.

      • RobertM

        The reason they are using tents is because of how small they pack up to. If you increase insulation you also increase size and weight. It is a trade off.

      • neroden

        Any military which is air-conditioning their tents is not ready to fight in the desert.

        • Bob_Wallace

          A military that is air conditioning its tents in the desert is creating an advantage for its personnel. Give your people some rest time out of the searing heat and they will be better able to perform when on duty.

          • Ronald Brakels

            You may talk o’ gin and beer
            When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,
            An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
            But when it comes to slaughter
            You will do your work on water,
            An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Another problem is the loss of life for those making fuel deliveries to forward bases. A solar system can be delivered by helicopter with much less danger to personnel than a single truckload of fuel.

    • GCO

      It even worse that that. Your math apparently assumes a 100%+ efficient generator.

      The energy density I found for diesel was about 36 MJ/L or 10 kW⋅h/L ≈ 38 kW⋅h of heat per gallon.
      Good mid-size (20~100kW) diesel generators may get a dozen kW⋅h out of that when adequately loaded => we’re well over 30$/kW⋅h in good conditions. At low loads, costs will increase even further as efficiency drops.

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