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A solar panel is displayed during the Modern Day Marine Military Exposition at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 29. Solar technology allows the Marine Corps to cut down on fuel use, costs and dangerous resupply missions.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers

Protecting the planet also saves Marine lives

30 Sep 2011 | Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers

The Marine Corps has fought to preserve freedom in the United States from the Corps’ inception. In the last decade the Corps has joined a different fight to preserve energy and fossil fuels in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. Since 2006, the Marine Corps has funded research into numerous products that not only decrease reliance on natural resources, but more importantly, save deployed Marine lives.

At the Modern Day Marine Military Exposition at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Sept. 27-29, 500 vendors displayed products, a portion of which were geared toward the ‘green’ initiative of the Corps.

Most notable of the energy-preserving products was the solar-powered equipment.

Dean Fuller, National Solar Technologies sales engineer, said the Marine Corps has employed his company’s solar powered lighting systems and solar/wind-power systems for five years now.
Portable street lighting, which is used in many deployed camps, runs completely on solar energy, allowing them to function without fuel.

“When the insurgents would cut the power and try to attack us, these lights would stay on,” Fuller said. He also said NST went on to bulletproof the light fixtures by making the bulb casings thicker.

The reliable illumination these lights provided was a source of protection and comfort for the Marines no matter what happened.

Multiple companies developed new innovations and improvements to solar technologies to increase effectiveness in deployed environments.

One such improvement is the ability to provide energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The solar panels have batteries that store energy accumulated throughout the day, which can be used at night. Additionally, panels can be equipped with a computerized automatic tracking system that follows the sun from sunrise to sunset. The panels continually adjust their angle to maximize sun absorption. This more effectively uses the full energy of the sun during daylight, said L. Monte Cook, III, vice president of sales and marketing for AA Solar Inc. The solar technology developed by AA Solar Inc. is pending approval by Marine Corps officials, but offers single solar panels that capture 1,000 watts and solar panel carousels that produce up to 35,000 watts of power, which is much more than what is currently offered by other technologies. This is a substantial improvement since a communication tent with air conditioning can be powered for around 2,000 watts in a deployed setting, Cook said.

These innovations allow the Marine Corps to further decrease its dependence on diesel fuels, which may be costly and scarce.

“We have to get off of fossil fuels,” Cook said. “These panels are a way to do it.”
On top of saving the planet, going ‘green’ will also save the Marine Corps large sums of money in the long run.

“If you have a diesel machine and you pay $1,000 an hour to run it, that’s $24,000 a day,” Cook said. “In just four days, the solar technology will pay for itself.”

For Marine Corps officials, however, saving the planet and the government’s money pales in comparison to saving the lives of Marines in deployed situations. Clint J. Govar, head engineer for Solar Technology said increased safety is a big reason to use solar products. Previously, regular resupply trips were necessary for any remotely stationed camp. This predictability increased the possibility of insurgent attacks. Additionally, while fuel-powered generators are noisy, solar panels function silently, allowing Marine camps to be more tactical and draw less attention from terrorists. Thanks to solar panels now used in many deployed locations, Marine lives are better protected with fewer resupply trips and more classified locations.

Solar technology is continuing to improve to be smaller, lighter and more portable. The Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems can be folded up and carried individually in a Marine’s pack.

“Marines in Afghanistan really liked this system,” Govar said. “I think their general comment was ‘solid gold’. They use it for charging their batteries, powering their barber kits and powering their radios directly.”

Solar technology experts foresee a significant increase in the utilization of and continued research on solar products for the Marine Corps.

“In five years, solar is going to be much better,” Govar said. “We’re at the very beginning now and it’s only going to get better from here.”

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