In recent months, the United States Department of Defense has come out in full support of renewable energy. They’ve implemented wave power to power a Marine Corps base in Hawaii and outfitted troops with solar-powered backpacks, along with placing solar panels at several Marine bases in Afghanistan last September. A recently released Marine report says that by using the solar panels and placing an emphasis on energy consumption, Marines and sailors of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment have cut diesel consumption in their generators by nearly 90 percent.
According to Sgt. David Doty, the squad has lowered the fuel consumption from 20 gallons a day to just 2.5 gallons each day by using the Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy System (SPACES). The system consists of several foldable solar panels, a multitude of output and input cables and adapters, and a box no bigger than the average game console. Along with charging generators, they can be used to power small gadgets or entire operations centers.
By far, the biggest benefit for Marines is the eliminated need to transport extra fuel. The lightweight, flexible solar panel blankets take up little space, saving room for other supplies like ammunition. This means convoys can be smaller, reducing the risk of attack from enemy troops while on the road. On top of that, by running generators on solar-power batteries at night, they would be quieter than those operating on diesel, making them harder for the enemy to find.
But, like all new things, the system has not been without troubles. In a different report, Sgt. Taylor Clark, a communications instructor with The Basic School in Quantico, said that charge time for an eight-hour radio battery took between three and four hours, making it an unrealistic option for Marines on the move. He also said that to keep the panels at optimal charge, they need to be continually rotated and free of sand, which would be a tedious task in the desert.
Still, many Marines are praising the gear for being durable, light, and simple to use. Most importantly, the solar panels have the ability to increase the safety of Marines. Like Sgt. Willy Carrion said, “Marines can sustain themselves on little food and water, but the time we have saved on convoys for fuel and batteries, has been crucial.”