No Blood for… Solar Power?

Last Thursday, the Christian Science Monitor reported on an unusual memo from the staff of Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the highest-ranking Marine officer in Iraqs troubled Anbar Province. According to the Monitor, and to more comprehensive treatments in Inside Defense and Defense Industry Daily, Zilmer asked the Pentagon to find a way to get “solar panels and wind turbines” into the hands of his troops. Without access to renewable energy solutions, Zilmer expects to see “continued casualty accumulation [which] exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success.”
Say what?
Solar.JPGThe article in the Monitor suggests two different ways in which solar- and wind-powered generators for isolated outposts would reduce U.S. casualties. The first is that “despite desert temperatures, the hot ‘thermal signature’ of a diesel generator can call enemy attention to U.S. outposts.” How, exactly, an array of solar panels and wind turbines would make U.S. troops less conspicuous in a country bristling with diesel generators is left unclear.
The second argument holds more water. As hard as it is to believe, diesel and other refined petroleum products are actually imported into Iraq by truck, largely from Turkey. And fuel convoys not to mention the U.S. troops riding in them are some of the most tempting targets to insurgents: in August 2005, for example, the Army 1st Corps Support Command alone was reporting 30 IED attacks a week.
All that fuel convoyin’ costs not only lives, but money, too. Military estimates for the cost of one gallon of generator fuel delivered to a unit at a forward position range from $100 to $400. This is a problem.
(If youre curious to know how they get those types of numbers for a single gallon of fuel, take a gander at this LMI presentation, from 2004, which cranks out an estimate of $3 per kilowatt-frickin’-hour or about $120 per gallon of fuel consumed on the battlefield, compared to $0.40/kWh ($16/gallon) to run those same generators stateside. If this stateside number seems high, too, remember that the number represents all costs associated with turning that gallon of fuel into useful energy, including personnel costs, equipment depreciation, and so on.)
So, what can be done?
Right now, theres no easy answer. Arlington, Va.-based SkyBuilt Power offers a containerized, deployable solar-/wind-powered generating station which has gotten a lot of press, but the system, which produces “0.5 kW to 150 kW or more,” is reported by the Monitor to go for a neat $100,000.
Still, that price tag looks a lot less scary when you keep in mind the absurd cost of running a diesel generator on the battlefield. According to the Monitor, Zilmers memo estimated that a system like SkyBuilts would pay for itself in three to five years.
That, of course, is probably why In-Q-Tel, the CIAs own venture-cap firm, is one of SkyBuilts big backers.
Part of the logistics crunch which is feeding those convoy casualty rates has more to do with inept planning than with a lack of available technology. In February 2006, the engineering journal IEEE Spectrum published a must-read article describing how diesel fuel is trucked in from Turkey to power Baghdads main power station, even while the natural gas which could power the same turbines, if the appropriate equipment were installed, is flared off as waste at an oilfield across the street.
Obviously, renewable energy isn’t going to solve problems on the scale of Iraq’s FUBARed power grid, nor will it solve problems that are really about planning, and not technology. And just as obviously, there’s no mature technology out there ready to take the place of every diesel generator and internal combustion engine in the U.S. armory.
But as I wrote almost a year ago, the Department of Defense can’t afford to sit around and wait for someone else to mature those technologies: “the mature renewable-energy and fuel-efficient technology of the future may never appear in reality until it appears among DARPA’s ‘Areas of Interest.’
Since I wrote those words, I’m glad to say that there’s been all sorts of movement on this front. And the publicity garnered by Zilmers memo can only help matters along.
So next time you hear about a company thats developing better solar cells, or more efficient wind turbines, pay attention. Theyre not just Mother Natures best friends they may well be a jarhead’s best friend.
Haninah Levine

  • Wembley

    And the take-home lesson is: don’t mess up the power grid and the refining capacity if you want to occupy the place or rebuild it afterwards.
    “Think ahead”

  • Brian

    We didn’t mess up the power grid or the refining capabilities. That’s just Iraqi engineering.
    The last time we targeted their power grid? 1991.

  • Noah (the other one)

    Aside from it being against the Geneva Convention to target civilian infrastructure, Iraq was intermittently bombed by the US from 1992 to May 2002 when the pre-war campaign began in earnest.
    (http://www.ccmep.org/usbombingwatch/2003.htm)
    It should be noted that this bombing campaign was initiated well before the Oct. 11 2002 congressional authorization, and that a ruse of Iraqi aggression was utilized to destroy communications, power and other services considered vital to conducting a defense to the planned invasion.
    As for destroying the infrastructure, that was part of the economic plan whereby American companies (like Halliburton) would be paid to rebuild Iraq (to our specs) out of Iraqi oil revenue.
    As events in Lebanon have so clearly pointed out (as if it needed pointing out), the one who destroys your infrastructure is your enemy. When you’ve spent more than a decade doing that I guess it takes you to another level entirely.

  • Carol Rae

    Wind Turbines like much of modern tech. contains
    a device called an inverter/inverter drive.
    It relaces the normal transformer to covert AC to DC or DC to AC.. The aircraft industry use them as a fule saveing device a whole string of them can generate a lot of power.
    They act as a broad spectrum low frequency transmitter/generator. Its able to amplfy other frequencies off scale so these devices don`t comply to EMC electromagnetic compatibility law.
    Just like Tetra and Mobile phones don`t comply to
    this law for the same reason.
    Government policy turns a blind eye.
    Though what was radiocommunications (OFCOM) warned about the poss. problem in RHS ovens.
    Though the heal and safety aspect was not the original intent of EMC.. There are those implications, but even the interferance on other
    electrical systems from its use in RADAR to the
    new electronic healing systems able to programme the bodies cells to other substance.. Be they for war or healing…
    This links to the production of Zero-point energy
    These devices can`t be earthed filtered or shielding creating large scale nuclear as well as microwave radition off scale.
    But one might say they are sold a low level radiation.. They are not..
    Tesla technology by just another name….
    Reverse polarity machines is another name in which the power should be read in you gess reverse polarity from the South not the north axis. I would like David Hambling to get back to me so we can discuss this further.

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