Ramble On

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Solar Marines

 The Natural Intelligence column in Outside magazine's December 2011 edition, entitled "Charge!" and written by David Roberts, outlines some successes the Marine Corps has had in adapting solar technology to battle.  I did some further research and this has been a hot topic this year, with many articles available on-line, I've also included a link to an NPR article at the end of this post for easy reference.

Roberts' article begins with the lead paragraph:

"The Solyndra solar debacle has some in Congress arguing that government needs to get out of the renewable-power business.  Don't tell that to the Marine Corps, the bravest new recruit in the clean-energy revolution."

After watching the movie Restrepo this year - and visiting a couple of USMC bases - I've grown attuned to how this tactical force operates:  fast moving and overwhelming force, usually at the expense of having to carry a lot of petroleum-based fuels with them, especially as generator power hungry communications and information gear become more and more essential to the success of their missions. 

The Marines have established the Expeditionary Energy Office to come up with ways to address power needs.  In the Outside article, the example given was India Company 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment's deployment to the Sangin District in Afghanistan's Helmand province.  India 3/5 had four portable modules that fold out in two large solar panels each, all connected to power cells to store the energy overnight.  They also have pack stowable gear that the Marines can carry - only 2.5 pounds each - instead of the 25-35 pounds of batteries they usually have to haul on their backs. 

Another highlight, from the NPR article I linked, also featuring India 3/5, is this: 

"By using solar power and placing an emphasis on energy conservation, Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment say they cut diesel consumption in their generators from 20 gallons a day to 2.5 gallons a day."

Three more bullets that argue for more solar power rather than less, at least in the case of the Marines:

  • Fewer Supply Convoys — With less need for fuel and batteries, fewer trucks are exposed to possible attacks on the road.
  • Quieter Is Safer — Units that rely on diesel generators to keep equipment running at night could go quiet while running on batteries, making them harder for the enemy to find.
  • Efficiency — The foldable solar blankets are light and don't take up much space. That should help patrols' mobility, and save space for other supplies — like ammunition, as one sergeant says.
This is the kind of development that is going to help build a mass civilian market for these technologies.

Here's a link to the NPR article:

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