Marines harness the sun

Gas-powered generators use hundreds of gallons of fuel that has to be sent to the front lines. Marines are hoping new technologies will ease the load.

The Marine Corps now has the power of the sun.

Later this year, a company of Marines will deploy to Afghanistan equipped with solar power systems to supplement its gasoline-powered generators. The move is an effort by the service to begin fielding some green technologies to shorten a long and expensive logistics trail.

Company I of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., will deploy with seven Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Systems (GREENS). Produced by the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in Maryland, each GREENS can provide up to 300 watts of power, making it an alternative to a small conventional generator. The device features four hybrid rechargeable photovoltaic batteries, a power converter and a controller.

The company tested the GREENS during training drills in August at Twentynine Palms, Calif. National Defense reported that during the exercise, the Marine unit never had to turn on a generator to power its combat operations center. Marine sources said the solar equipment provided 196 hour of continuous power during the exercise.

Besides the solar power systems, the Marines of Company I will also be using LED lights, which are more durable and longer lasting than fluorescent tubes. The company will also deploy solar-powered light trailers designed to illuminate areas such as checkpoints after dark. The timer-operated trailers can run continuously for 12 hours when fully charged by the sun.

The Marine Corps is also looking into other technologies to save power. National Defense notes that the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is investigating ways to integrate the various types of generators used at Marine facilities into basewide microgrids that would automatically monitor the electric load and switch generators on or off based on consumption.

Alternative power sources are attractive to the Defense Department for environmental and logistical reasons. Environmentally, the Pentagon has a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent in three years, although progress on this front has lagged, Wired reported.

The other concern is cutting the military’s logistical needs for forces scattered across Afghanistan’s often inhospitable terrain. Wired notes that according to operational estimates released in 2009, a single soldier in Afghanistan uses 22 gallons of fuel a day, and delivering each gallon to the war zone costs between $300 and $400.

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