Marines to perform reconnaissance for solar in Afghanistan

A Marine Corps regiment prepares to bring solar power into combat situations, and the Navy gets a new solar parking lot.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Over the summer, a regiment of 150 marines tested and trained with an assortment of solar devices at Camp Pendleton, California. Soon they'll be leaving for Afghanistan, packing solar panels, solar heating/cooling devices, LED lights, solar light trailers for use at check points, and solar powered generators. They'll also bring conventionally fueled generators. Just in case.

The new equipment could possibly cut their fuel consumption by an estimated 30 to 50 percent. In August, the Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment went 8 days in the California desert relying purely on solar power.

Sandra Erwin of National Defense magazine reports:

The head of the Defense Department’s operational energy programs, Sharon Burke, said the Marine Corps deserves praise for having “operationalized” technologies that have existed in labs but have not made it to the field. All the military services have developed green technology, “but the marines came in at a leadership level and said, ‘We’re going to deploy this,’” Burke said in an interview. “That makes a big difference."

Every service now wants to do what the marines are doing, Burke said. “We’re seeing it in their budgets,” she said. “They’re looking at how to use the technologies."

The Pentagon recently set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by a third within a decade. This may not be as difficult as it seems, considering the goal does not include combat areas where the armed forces' biggest fuel consumers (i.e. jets, tanks, ships) operate.

Still, the Navy is making some progress at home in Seal Beach, CA with a just-approved $1.9 million dollar solar parking lot, expected to offset 328,983 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. Earlier, the Navy and the Marine Corps signed a $100 million in solar contracts for other domestic bases in the West and Southwest.

In the field, transporting fuel to remote troops is pricey, and dangerous. The marine unit will be taking with them seven 300-watt solar battery systems, called GREENS (Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System). As long as power needs don't exceed 300 watts, the system (above), according to the Navy who developed it, should run continuously so soldiers won't have to keep checking fuel levels and turning the generators on and off to save fuel.

Here's hoping the marines safely return and bring back valuable insight and data on how to further deploy these or future renewable energy tools.

Wired quotes Christine Parthemore of the Center for a New American Security:

I hope they’re asking ‘what next,’ because there might be operational benefits we’ve never dreamed of, or some of the projects might not work quite as they’d hoped. Whatever their 2.0 ends up being, there are going to be important lessons in this for the Defense Department as a whole.

As far as self-sustaining green technologies go, what may be next are purification systems for drinking water. Apparently, for every fuel truck supplying the troops, there are seven trucks filled with bottled water. The marines also tested a few of these devices, but none seem to fit the bill for military use.

Related on SmartPlanet:

Images: Marine Corps and Navy/John F. Williams
: Wired

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards