Mobile renewable energy – worth exploring for the U.S. Military

According to the Wall Street Journal, the cost of delivering one gallon of fuel to U.S. troops that were stationed in Afghanistan in 2011 cost as much as $400. This is due to the fact that most fuels were being delivered by cargo planes.

The need to deliver fuel by cargo planes was created by the threat of roadside bombs. Improvised explosive devices (often placed on roadsides in the path of supply convoys) are responsible for about 80% of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan.

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While it’s true that much of the fuel goes towards powering military vehicles, powering military bases is also a large part of fuel consumption. Communication and surveillance, as well as providing A/C for soldiers in Afghanistan’s blistering summers, and heating for the frigid winter temperatures, among other electric needs on bases consumes a great deal of fuel. In 2011, the marines alone were reportedly using 800,000 gallons per day to run their operations. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs, per day, for just the marines.

As there isn’t an easily accessible power grid available, energy for the base has to be generated on-site. This almost always takes the shape of massive, highly inefficient, diesel generators. These generators require frequent maintenance; they make a large amount of noise and pollute the air. In addition, they require diesel fuel which is (as mentioned above) often dangerous and expensive to transport. To keep a base powered, diesel generators run twenty-four hours a day and are very inefficient, because they have no way of storing the electricity produced, and have a very difficult time matching up their production with the needs of the base.

There are, however, solutions to increasing the energy efficiency of military base power systems while decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. One solution is a solar power system that’s coupled to a battery bank through a battery-based inverter and connected to a diesel generator. What we’re talking about here is a renewable energy microgrid. As with a home that has an emergency battery backup system installed, the power generated from the solar panels is either consumed by the household as it is produced or stored in an energy bank for later use. If the home goes completely off-grid, the household can pull energy from the batteries at night, and use the energy delivered directly from the solar panels during the day, while simultaneously recharging the battery bank. If there is a much larger than usual need for energy at a certain point in time, and the batteries get completely drained, without a chance to recharge, a diesel generator can kick in, working at full capacity (at which it’s most efficient) to recharge the battery bank and shut off when the batteries are full.

There’s also the possibility of using hybrid systems with three different fuel sources: solar, wind, and diesel. The combination of solar and wind provides a more levelized energy output throughout the day than either renewable energy can by itself.

Unlike generators, renewable energy systems may often have troubles during transportation. However, a modular solar microgrid, like the SPG1 pictured below, is a great option for when a quiet, pollution-free, fuel-free solution is required. So-called solar trailers have made substantial technological advancements in the past few decades, with increases in efficiency and decreases in cost.

The great thing about mobile solar power (or for that matter, any mobile renewable energy source), is that it requires no connection with the outside world to keep your day-to-day operations running. With the solar trailer that we offer, maintenance is only required every 5 to 10 years, and the fact that there are no moving parts ensures high reliability. Our SPG-1 solar trailer is designed for extreme conditions and powerful enough to provide energy for two off-grid homes. It can also work with a diesel generator when the energy demand is unusually high.

Learn more about mobile solar power on our off-grid page.