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Solar panels soak up the desert sun outside of the generators and tents they are helping provide power for outside the Marine Corps Training Operations Group headquarters at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. The Corps is testing several “green initiative” systems designed to boost generator power, cutting fuel costs and prolonging the generators’ life spans. (Official USMC photo by Sgt. Heather Golden)

Photo by Sgt. Heather Golden

‘Green’ technology could save lives, money

3 Jun 2011 | Sgt. Heather Golden

A routine training exercise at the Combat Center’s Marine Corps Training and Operations Group provided the perfect opportunity to test new “green” technology that could save the Corps money, time, and most importantly, lives on the battlefield.

Marines are using a generator-hybrid system that promises to reduce the amount of fuel used to power generators is a priority, said Capt. Brandon Newell, the renewable and energy efficiency analyst for the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office for Headquarters Marine Corps.

Slashing fuel costs, reducing the need for resupply missions for generator fuel and exposure of Marines to enemy attacks on the roadways is also a priority, Newell added.

“Reducing fuel demand at the tip of the spear is key,” he said.

This hybrid system is another step in the right direction.

The traditional generators will still be needed to provide some power, but their run time is cut down by about two thirds due to the small set of solar panels and the battery storage in the hybrid system.

This method cuts fuel use and costs, and maximizes the amount of generator output, said Ken King, the director for the Marine Forces Pacific Western Area Research, Test and Evaluation Center, headquartered at Camp Wilson on the Combat Center. The hybrid is expected to save money by prolonging generator lifespan, and cutting the need to buy new generators.

The Corps has already started using similar solar powered systems, like the compact Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems, to help power everything from AN/PRC-119F SINCGARS radios to computers and personal devices.

However, the hybrid system tested here last week can easily power an entire combat operations center. This includes the massive amount of energy needed to cool computer equipment in the desert heat.

The WARTEC team compared the amount of fuel needed to power a COC using traditional generators to one powered by the hybrid. Technicians used additional thermal lining in the tents along with the hybrid system to maximize energy efficiency.  Fuel reduction has shown impressive results thus far with the hybrid generator only coming on three to five hours per day, King said.

Newell said the systems are still in the evaluation process, but so far the results are positive.

“There’s a good chance it’ll save a third to two thirds of the fuel demand,” he said.

The teams are also experimenting with the LED lights and using direct current energy for air conditioning instead of alternating current.

Newell said so far the biggest disadvantage is its weight. Unlike the portable SPACES used to power radios and recharge batteries, this system is heavy and not easily moved.

Newell said his team is currently brainstorming to remedy that issue.

For now, they are preparing to outfit a unit training for deployment with the system to get feedback on the technology.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms