Marines set to ship more solar panels to Afghanistan
The U.S. Marine Corps will start shipping in December 10 sets of 20 solar panel systems to Afghanistan to power patrol and forward operating bases as part of an alternative energy initiative to cut the Corps’ fuel use in half by 2025.
Marine Corps officials accelerated the fielding of energy saving systems to include tent liners, LED lights, a solar powered radio and a solar panel network that the Corps expects to save them more than $40 million per year.
Marines with India Company 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan, last year and used this equipment all while engaged in some of the fiercest fighting since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan.
Their rave reviews urged Corps leaders to ship more alternative energy systems to Afghanistan faster.
“Guys didn’t want to give it up,” said Maj. Sean Sadlier, a logistics analyst with the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office. “What better review can you get than that.”
Solar shades and two sets of the solar panel systems officially called the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network Systems (GREENS) are still in use at Patrol Base Boldak where India 3/5 Marines used them. Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan also has five sets of solar floodlights Sadlier said have proven “very reliable.”
The Marine Corps has gotten out in front of the Defense Department-wide effort to cut down fuel consumption focusing especially on small unit’s energy use. Marine Corps leaders say they don’t have a choice.
Marines consume 5 million barrels of oil at a cost of $1 billion per year. Even more alarming is the number of Marines wounded hauling that fuel on streets laced with improvised explosive devices in the war zone. One Marine is wounded for every 50 fuel and water convoy driven.
India 3/5 Marines saw their fuel and battery replacement needs fall significantly. Units could complete three week foot patrols without one battery resupply using the Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy System (SPACES) along with other rechargers.
Carrying less batteries means also lightening a Marine’s load — one of Commandant Gen. Jim Amos’ top priorities.
The Corps’ second deployment of alternative energy systems started in August. The focus this time is on hybrid systems to include direct current air-conditioning units.
Bill Barg, vice president of Sun Danzer which built the AC units, said the toughest challenge for direct current units powered partially by solar energy is matching electrical currents to the device. He is eager to see just how much fuel is saved by the hybrid systems.
Sadlier said hybrid is a realistic compromise. Too many systems already depend on petroleum. Replacing a large chunk of them is fiscally unfeasible especially in this budget environment, he said.
“No one foresees a near term replacement for petroleum on the battlefield, so hybrid systems have the most potential to balance renewable sources and the demand,” Sadlier said.
However, getting Marines to cut down on their energy needs still holds the greatest potential for energy savings. Using this equipment gets them in the right frame of mind, Marines here at Modern Day Marine said.
“Staff NCOs are key to the culture change. They are the ones out there. They have to be the ones that buy into it and so far we’ve seen that,” Sadlier said.