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Marines going green during WTI course
The U.S. Marine Corps has already taken solar power to the front lines. Now officials are looking to take it to other parts of the battlefield as well.
Maj. Anthony McNair and other members of the USMC Expeditionary Energy Office are currently at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma working with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1), to introduce some of its renewable energy technologies to aviation and combat support units during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course.
“Before we came to WTI all of our renewable energy technologies, or energy efficient technologies, had typically been with infantry units, trigger pullers, the muddy boot kind of guys,” McNair said. “Realistically that is where the emphasis should be. Not so much on the support organizations, but on the people that are actually on the front line.”
McNair explained that the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory has developed a solar panel system known as a Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network Systems or (GREENS) that can power a variety of radios, computers and other electronic devices, as well as systems common in combat operations centers, and now wants to determine how the system meets the energy needs of other types of units.
While GREENS has been used to charge the batteries of a M777 howitzer out at the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range during this course, Capt. Staci Reidinger, director of public affairs for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, said one of the things the Expeditionary Energy Office wants to research is the amount of fuel and batteries needed to run forward arming and refueling points (FARPs) in order to determine if the system could provide a more efficient and sustainable energy alternative.
The whole purpose of developing renewable energy technologies, McNair said, is to reduce generator fuel consumption, which will not only cut fuel costs, but also alleviate some of the logistical problems of having to supply the fuel needed to generate electricity, sometimes to very remote locations. He explained that instead of using a fuel-powered generator or motor, Marines would be able to set up photo-voltaic solar panels to provide the energy they need.
There is also a tremendous safety benefit to using GREENS as well. With more than 60 percent of its logistics dedicated to fuel and water resupply, McNair said using renewable energy technologies will also help reduce the threats to vehicle resupply convoys.
A recent study of resupply in Afghanistan, he said, found that for every 50 convoys of fuel and water, one Marine or civilian contractor was killed or wounded in action. Fewer convoys, he said, means fewer people — and Marines — getting injured or killed.
The GREENS is 300-watt hybrid battery generator that converts solar energy captured from 1,600W solar panels into electricity, which can be readily used for communications equipment, lighting and other electrical needs. The system also comes with rechargeable batteries that allows the energy to be stored until needed. It can also convert power from a generator or a vehicle motor.
The system can be set up in about 20 minutes by two Marines and can start supplying power in about five minutes after being put together. Multiple GREENS systems can be used together to handle higher loads. It can also be rapidly transported in vehicles as small as Humvees.
“In the past, what Marines have done is use small generators. These generators, although small, are just not efficient,” McNair said. “You have to have two generators, one in case the other one goes down. So you got two generators, and you fill these things with diesel and you burn them 24 hours a day, even if the load is a cell phone. So now you are burning between 15 and 20 gallons of fuel a day to power a cell phone, which is wildly inefficient.”
Another piece of renewable energy technology gear being introduced to Marines is what is known as Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems (SPACES). This portable, lightweight battery charger allows Marines to run radios and charge batteries, even while out on patrol. The 9-by-13-inch panel, which fits in a Marine's pack, is spread out flat like a blanket when in use and can be used to power multiple small items.
In addition to the renewable energy technology, McNair said they are also introducing two energy efficient technologies — radiant blanket barriers and LED lights.
“It is one of those technologies I call a ‘duh' technology, because it just made sense, but nobody ever thought about it,” McNair said.
A radiant blanket barrier is a shelter accessory that is essentially a silver lining that is layerd between the tent's inner liner fabric and outer cover to act as insulation to help keep it cool in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Another reason the Expeditionary Energy Office decided to come to this session of WTI, McNair said, was that it wanted to develop a fielding plan in order to determine how many GREENS an aviation support unit would need to meet its power needs.
“We don't know that yet, because these units have never had that technology before,” McNair said. “We are letting them play with numbers. We are letting the units determine how many systems they need. They are telling us what their demands are.”
McNair said a second generation of GREENS is currently being developed, with the goal to create a lighter and more productive version of the one available now.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.