US Army builds its own clean-power grids

In today’s armed combat, battlefields are very rarely near reliable sources of power. 

Even military operations that occur in and around cities typically cripple or completely destroy energy plants and power lines. This means military personnel are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to powering valuable medical and tactical equipment.

Recently the US armed forces, unlike the rest of the government, has thrown its full weight behind renewable energy technologies that could help reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, and provide greater security for ground troops in remote areas.

Currently, Army engineers are working to develop renewable-energy based microgrids that can work independently of traditional grid power.

Other military efforts to “go greener” have been very selective, like initiatives to increase biofuel consumption and experiment with alternative-fuel vehicles. The Army’s microgrid plan would harness energy from the sun and wind to ease the burdens associated with transporting fossil fuels to dangerous areas.

“Microgrids will be able to take solar, wind and batteries and use them together,” said Marnie de Jong, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. “You can use solar when there is no wind available. Different pieces of the puzzle work better in different places. By making this a solution set, you can take what you need given your location.”

Called the RENEWS system, the technology would work very much like a portable power plant, providing and storing enough energy to power smaller, mostly communications systems in very remote locations where re-supplying fuel is difficult or dangerous.

Weighing only 100 pounds and compact enough to be packed into two cases, RENEWS is designed to power two or three laptops continuously as long as there is power coming daily from the solar panels or wind turbine, according to de Jong said. The storage component will be able to provide power at peak demand for about five hours when energy is not being generated by the renewable components.

The Army is also working on REDUCE, a sister program that integrates renewables with traditional fossil-fuel generators to reduce consumption in the field.

Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling