U.S. Military in Afghanistan: Microgrids and Solar for ICT

Innovative field trials in Afghanistan's war zones could be yielding technologies to provide more reliable and greener power for ICT infrastructures in remote areas and in emergency response situations.

Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps

The U.S. Marine Corps' Experimental Forward Operating Base (ExFOB)is a field initiative in support of the Corps' Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O) chartered with reducing its energy intensity 30 percent by 2015 from its 2003 baseline. Renewable Energy World says, "Systems that pass the muster in training environments graduate to field testing at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. One of these battle-approved systems is SPACES—a solar-powered battery charging kit that is used by Marine forces rotated through Afghanistan. Marines who took part in the EXFOB exercises gave glowing reviews of SPACES and other technologies such as PowerShades, fabric field shelters embedded with solar PV cells. PowerShades are light, portable structures that provide shade for soldiers during the day, while generating upto 2 kW of energy for ventilation fans, lights, computers, communications and battery recharging."

The Corps is already reporting savings from integrating solar PV into a traditional generator-based filed microgrid: “Our generators typically use more than 20 gallons of fuel a day. We are down to 2.5 gallons a day.” Among the ICT-connected equipment deployed by the Marines are "the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System, or 'GREENS'…solar panel array capable of providing enough energy to run…four computers at a time [and] the ZeroBase Regenerator …six outsized solar panels funneling energy into one battery, it can power more than 20 lighting systems and 15 computers at one time." The Zerobase Regenerator pictured above has an additional four panels added in the field.

The US Army is testing the smart microgrids in Afganistan. "A microgrid consists of 'smart' generators that link with one another to intelligently manage the power supply and operate at peak efficiency. Microgrids also enable the use of alternative energy sources and energy storage…In addition to increased reliability, the intelligent controls will also make future grids easier to set up than today’s power generation layouts…Army researchers are also working on universal power converter boxes that would enable interoperability between power sources of all types…[such as] a mix of…generators, utility power and renewable energy sources."

R&D may get a boost from the August 2011 announcement that U.S. defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing are forming a venture to pursue DOD opportunities with smart microgrids.

Pike Research projects, "…the capacity of military microgrids will grow at a rate of 739% between 2011 and 2017, increasing from 38 megawatts (MW) to 316 MW during that period, under a baseline forecast scenario…under a more aggressive adoption scenario, stationary and mobile military microgrid capacity could reach as high as 817 MW during the same timeframe."