New Weapon For US Air Force: Mobile Solar + Energy Storage

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The US Air Force is getting into the mobile solar plus energy storage game, and taking it into battle. The idea is to scavenge renewable energy at forward operating bases instead of relying on diesel fuel shipments. Aside from relieving FOBs from the burden of fuel delivery risks, the solar plus storage equation allows for cleaner, quieter operations at forward bases.

Take a look at the gasoline shortages bedeviling the southeastern US this week — which resulted from just one leak in one pipeline — and you can see why the Air Force is determined to shed petroleum dependency in favor of a more flexible, reliable supply chain.


Mobile Solar Plus Energy Storage For The US Air Force

Diesel fuel shipments have been a key weak point and a leading cause of casualties for US military operations overseas, so the Defense Department has been pursuing hyperlocal energy harvesting on a number of different levels.

That’s where the new solar plus energy storage comes in. The new “Mobile Hybrid Power System” project teams researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory and the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) with power conversion leader Ideal Power Inc. and the lithium-ion battery company EnerDel.

Here’s the rundown from EnerDel:

EnerDel selected Ideal Power’s Grid Resilient Multi-port 30kW Power Conversion System (30B3) for this project. EnerDel’s Mobile Hybrid Power System (MHPS) integrates the 30B3 with an 8kW tent-mounted solar array to form a portable microgrid.

In terms of mobile deployment, a key advantage of the system is its compact size and relatively low weight. The system’s software can also be configured to operate in different markets around the world.

Here’s another look at the basic unit:

solar-plus-energy storage

Currently the project is seven months into a one-year test at the 319th Training Squadron’s Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training (BEAST) facility at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

So far, so good. The test run doesn’t sound all that sexy — the mobile unit is being used to power lights and AC for living quarters — but the availability of clean, abundant, local energy could make an enormous difference in terms of supply logistics and reliability when deployed overseas.

Comparing Solar + Energy Storage With Conventional Power

The BEAST test run is also going to be interesting because it provides the opportunity for a side-by-side comparison between conventional utility sourcing and solar plus energy storage.

The BEAST is divided into four camps, and only one of them is getting mobile solar plus energy storage. As part of the test run, that camp is also getting a full suite of advanced energy management technologies, including more energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems, new insulation, and smart controllers.

That camp and one of the conventional camps have been outfitted with wireless meters, which the UDRI team is monitoring and comparing.

Go Air Force

Certain members of Congress have been flying the “Support Our Troops” flag while actively working to undercut the development of renewable energy technologies that can, literally, save soldiers’ lives.

However, the Air Force and other branches of the Armed Services have been determined to nurture the domestic renewable energy industry and take advantage of emerging technologies.

UDRI provides just one example of the key role that Defense Department funding is playing in the growth of the domestic renewable energy industry:

Research and development in advanced energy technologies at UDRI has grown significantly in the last 10 years, fueled primarily by Air Force sponsorship. In the last five years alone, the Energy Technologies and Materials division has more than doubled its research staff to help meet the growing demand for cleaner and alternative energy storage, management and power resources.

Aside from portable systems for forward operating bases overseas, the Air Force is also eying advanced solar plus storage systems for its domestic facilities.

Foundational research is another major area for Air Force funding, including graphene production and enhanced solar cells.

Meanwhile, the US Army also has numerous renewable energy projects under its belt, including portable and wearable devices as well as transportable systems for its forward operating bases.

The US Marine Corps caught the CleanTechnica eye a while back with its portable “solar-in-a-suitcase” systems, and its 2025 vision sheds burdensome petroleum dependency in favor of new technologies:

Marine Corps forces must be organized, trained, equipped, and deployed with the expectation of operating in inhospitable conditions against committed and competent foes. We will maintain an expeditionary mindset in our air and ground elements and in all we do — emphasizing speed of execution, agility, and flexibility.

The Navy has come under heavy fire from US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and other fossil fuel fans in Congress for its pursuit of alternative aircraft and marine fuels, but so far the Obama Administration has been able to counter the attacks by deploying its executive authority in support of Navy biofuel programs.

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Photos: top via US Air Force, bottom via EnerDel.

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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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