Solar Power for the Military

The U.S. military is going green, in a big way and across a wide variety of applications. Military higher-ups plan to rely on renewable energy sources for 50 percent of their power by 2020, which could help the worldwide advancement of those technologies immeasurably. Many front line commanders see fossil fuels as a drain on their resources and a severe limitation to their capabilities. Renewable technologies offer a solution right now. The high casualty rate of soldiers who accompany fuel convoys is a big motivation for switching to renewables now in combat areas.

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is pushing biofuels for fighter jets, naval vessels, hybrid electric drives for ships and renewable energy systems for combat Marines. The military is playing a big part in helping the country reduce its dependence upon expensive oil. On its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, the U.S.S. Makin Island, the first hybrid naval vessel, saved 900,000 gallons of fuel.

U.S.S. Makin Island

U.S.S. Makin Island

At traditional encampment sites, renewable replacements to typical diesel or kerosene fueled equipment includes portable solar panels; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields for shade and electricity; and solar chargers for communications equipment. There is less need for noisy, expensive, energy consuming portable generators. Some 30% of all the fuel trucked into Afghanistan is needed to power all those on-site computer terminals, laptops and many other assorted electronic gear that makes the military so lethal. But that fuel effectively costs about $45 per gallon to truck in and protect. Renewable energy systems turn out to be much cheaper.

Solar Panels at Work in Afghanistan

Solar Panels at Work in Afghanistan

A typical Marine carries 100 pounds of supplies. About 20% of the weight a Marine carries is for extra batteries to power electronic devices. Using batteries recharged by the sun makes that Marine able to carry more ammunition and supplies, and fight longer and farther.

Concept for Soldier Wearing Flexible Photovoltaic Cells for Battery Charging

Concept for Soldier Wearing Flexible Photovoltaic Cells for Battery Charging

Renewable energy use is not confined to just fighting men and women, or deployed combat systems. Military bases are significant energy users as well and can benefit enormously by reducing their fossil fuel use via renewable energy systems. Here the solar, wind, photovoltaics and geothermal heating/cooling systems we associate with traditional renewable applications in residential and commercial size structures is perfectly applicable and being used.

Editor’s Deep Dive:

Editor’s Note:
During World War I, Thomas Edison headed the U.S. Navy Consulting Board and contributed forty-five inventions, including substitutes for previously imported chemicals, defensive instruments against U-boats, a ship telephone system, an underwater searchlight, smoke screen machines, anti-torpedo nets, navigating equipment, and methods of aiming and firing naval guns. After the war he helped establish the Naval Research Laboratory, the only American organized weapons research institution until World War II . And speaking of World War II, Edison’s son Charles was Secretary of the Navy under FDR. Charles was responsible for development of the famous PT boats and the legendary Iowa class battleships which included the U.S.S. New Jersey, the longest serving and most decorated battleship— the “Big J.” (as decades of sailors serving in four wars affectionately called her). Charles’s wife Carolyn launched the famed ship on December 7th, 1942, one year after Pearl Harbor.Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

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Nanotechnology Energizes Solar Panels

Something very small [nanotechnology] is happening in the world of solar panels, but it promises big changes. It cuts to the heart of solar panel engineering, and the big dream solar aficionados have harbored for decades……thin film technology that is both cost effective and practical.

With nano-solar technology, the panels themselves change as well, their manufacturing becoming more like a film making process than adhering silicon-like materials to glass substrates. The use of customized nano particles has the ability to make the cells better able to capture incoming solar radiation, thereby increasing panel efficiency; and also enabling a cheaper manufacturing process. To give you a sense of the scale, a nanometer is equal to 1 billionth of a meter.

Konarka

Check out a photo below of Konarka’s, plastic, organic, thin film material, and visit them to see their typical product performance spec sheet. Konarka Technologies is located in Lowell Massachusetts, and was originally founded in 2001 by a team of researchers at UMass at Lowell, including Mr. Howard Berke, who now serves as Konarka’s Chairman and CEO.

Nanosolar, is now marketing their nanosolar panels, boasting a 15% panel efficiency. On a thin piece of aluminium, the company adds a nanoparticle ink, at a rate of printing 100 feet of solar cells a minute. They can produce panels [containing many solar cells] for 60 cents per watt, retailing them for about $1.00 a watt when production is full-scale. A fully installed Nanosolar panel system would cost about $2.50 a watt, much lower than the $6-8 a watt today with conventional solar panels. You can see an interesting video of their panel making operation and also via this photo below.

Nanosolar Scientist at Work

Nanosolar was founded in 2002, recently benefiting in 2010 from a revamped team of management talent with experience in growing technology companies into potent billion dollar organizations. The new team is headed by Mr. Geoff Tate, Chairman and CEO, and located in San Jose, CA.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory has teamed up with Microcontinuum Inc. and the University of Missouri to develop a very interesting nanoantenna which can capture up to 80% of the sun’s mid-infrared rays. Spiral nanoantennas, 1/25th the width of a human hair, do the work. These little babies can also harvest energy after the sun goes down! See photo below, and check out this website and fascinating video. Since these arrays absorb infrared radiation, they also absorb the sun’s infrared energy reradiated by the earth after dark. Similarly, they also take in heat from industrial processes. This opens up a whole series of applications for absorbing waste heat and reradiating it as electricity, effectively cooling buildings, computers, equipment, etc. … without air conditioning. This could be revolutionary in just a few more years. From tiny nanotechnology, big new applications grow.

 From tiny nanotechnology, big new applications grow

Microcontinuum was originally founded in 1998 by a former team of Polaroid scientists and engineers. Dr. W. Dennis Slafer is currently  President and CFO, Cambridge, MA.

New Energy Technologies, Inc. says it’s come up with a patent-pending method of spraying windows with a nano-thin photovoltaic material. The spray is an organic semitransparent material that converts sunlight to electricity. Using this technology the company will produce its SolarWindows, equipped with a nano film 1/1,000th the thickness of a human hair. Researchers found that its super small solar cells can harness more artificial light than other solar cells “under normal office lighting conditions, without the benefit of outside natural light from windows.” Check them out!

Mr. John A. Conklin is President and CEO of New Energy Technologies, located in Columbia, MD.

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison was a big fan of solar energy … “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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