U.S. Marines set to spend $9 million on solar

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Afghanistan front lines will be powered by solar energyThe Marine Corps is using solar to protect the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan. And it will soon spend $9 million on 300 photovoltaic generators to provide power for deployed troops there.

Solar power helps reduce the number of convoys that have to travel across dangerous territory to deliver supplies to Marines, reducing the risk to soldiers.

“Marines deployed to the forward edge of the combat zone are reliant on the fuel, water and other expendable energy sources that are provided to them by combat support elements, and that reliance comes with a cost. A study conducted by the Marine Corps Combat Development Command found that for every 50 convoys in Afghanistan one Marine is either wounded or killed,” according to a March 22 Marine Corps article.

One of the companies likely to vie for at least part of the $9 million is PowerFilm, which has been working with the military for years to deploy its modules in combat situations.

“We know evaluations are going on right now and that they have been evaluating them for a while. To my knowledge, the dollars they’re talking about spending haven’t been allocated to any one place,” said PowerFilm Marketing Manager Chad West.

Marines on patrol are using the Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy System (SPACES), a flexible photovoltaic charger that can be folded up and packed in a Marine’s pack, reducing the need for extra batteries.

It’s the kind of device that PowerFilm specializes in. The company developed its PowerShade Solar Field Shelters for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center. It’s a shade structure that also serves as a charger. It also offers foldable solar chargers in a variety of sizes. And they’re durable.

“We’ve shot them with 40 caliber rounds and done electric testing before and after. We lost less than 10 percent efficiency. There’s video of that,” West said (Videos are available on YouTube).

The company has received some feedback from soldiers using the devices, West said. “It’s been fairly collaborative feedback, how can we improve the system for them. Constructive, but not negative in any way shape or form,” he said.

At present there are 9 solar systems deployed on the Marine front lines in Afghanistan. Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was charged with testing the equipment in field.

“The Marines of Company I are deployed to the Sangin valley in Afghanistan, and they’re powering their patrol bases with nothing but renewable energy,” the Marines said. “1st Lt. Josef Patterson, platoon commander with Company I, said their entire forward operating base is solar-powered, and his Marines love it.”

Pictured: Solar on the battlefield. Photo taken by Major Paul Greenberg.