Operational Energy – The Marines Embrace Renewables

US Department of Defense agencies are leading the nation on the renewable energy front. With plans to have 25% renewable energy use by 2025 and spending $15.2B on DoD energy in 2010, this is a significant and growing market place for the solar energy industry.

DoD energy is segmented into basing power (mostly electricity), operational energy (mostly liquid fuels) and non-tactical vehicle energy.

Operational energy is consumed in forward-deployed situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan among other locations globally.  While a significant amount of diesel

Marines Expeditionary Energy Office Demo at Twentynine Palms, CA.

and JP-8 fuel is used to provide localized power and transportation (Marines = 200,000 gallons per day in Afghanistan), batteries are large part of the picture for soldier power.

A great piece in Outside magazine, “The Marines Go Renewable”, tells the story of how the marines are leveraging renewables, particularly solar, to keep their quick and lethal response capabilities. The main issue has been the Marines outrunning their fuel support systems, requiring a slow down and diminished effectiveness. The problem is the result of their using 3X the amount of batteries and fuel since 1998 to power electronics (command, control & communications) now common in front line operations. Photovoltaic solar technologies in various quick deployment and size configurations have enabled the average marine to reduce the amount of batteries and fuel required on the front line by almost 50%, which has significantly increased speed and effectiveness.

A great quote from the article: “Seeing a picture of a grinning Marine standing next to a still-functioning solar panel riddled with bullet holes makes it difficult to cast renewables as an effete liberal preoccupation.”

Eliminating batteries, winning contests.

Personally, seeing some of the products in use, such as foldable and packable solar PV chargers, has been satisfying, as I worked on these initial products back in 2004. At the Natick Soldier Systems Center, some of the first foldable and portable solar chargers took shape and the skepticism among most of the DoD energy elites and military was strong. The idea that batteries could be replaced by portable PV was a hard sell. As one uniformed person said, “when in a kill or be killed situation, batteries are the only way I trust to stay alive”.

Fortunately, these PV products have demonstrated that soldiers are more secure and can operate more efficiently and lethally.  They are now being deployed widely both in the Marines and the Army. A good example is their prominence in Katherine Hammack’s, (Assistant Secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy and Environment) recent Army energy transition presentations, which can found here. (3 minute mark)

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