Troops Explore Emerging Energy Solutions

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the mil­i­tary works to shrink its oper­a­tional ener­gy foot­print, experts in solar pow­er, micro­grids and “smart” gen­er­a­tors recent­ly took that tech­nol­o­gy to a cru­cial jury: the troops.
Sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines who deal hands-on with bat­tle­field pow­er con­verged here April 12–15 for the fourth annu­al Pow­er User Con­fer­ence held by the Defense Department’s mobile elec­tric pow­er project manager’s office, par­tic­i­pat­ing in small-group dis­cus­sions, attend­ing demon­stra­tions and pro­vid­ing feed­back on cur­rent and next-gen­er­a­tion equip­ment.

“This is a way to get very deep inside the com­bat [expe­ri­ence] and under­stand the issues and con­cerns that sol­diers are going through, because this is of para­mount impor­tance for us,” said Army Chief War­rant Offi­cer 3 Leonar­do Bere­ton, who over­saw pow­er equip­ment as part of his duties when deployed to Iraq in 2008 and 2009. “This equip­ment [was] run­ning through sand­storms and rain and cold and hot weath­er. … They are so valu­able to our fight.” 

Marine Corps Gun­nery Sgt. Joe Lei­ja said he con­nect­ed with experts “for every type of gear” with whom he pre­vi­ous­ly had worked via email from Afghanistan. “But now, putting a name with a face and being able to ask those hard ques­tions, I think it will help out the Marine Corps,” he said. 

Among Leija’s rec­om­men­da­tions: minor changes to the Solar Stik, a hybrid ener­gy sys­tem con­sist­ing of a light­weight tri­pod with a pair of 50-watt rigid-pan­el solar arrays, bat­ter­ies and a mil­i­tary gen­er­a­tor. Over­all, he said, the sys­tem could be a valu­able alter­na­tive to tra­di­tion­al ener­gy sources for pow­er­ing items with small loads, such as com­put­ers and batteries. 

“I think it has poten­tial,” he said. “Envi­ron­ment is going to deter­mine whether it’s usable.” 

Har­ness­ing the poten­tial of alter­na­tive ener­gies so they meet the demands of a mil­i­tary envi­ron­ment is a major focus for the mobile elec­tric pow­er project manager’s office, which sup­plies tac­ti­cal elec­tric pow­er solu­tions, train­ing and sup­port to the ser­vices. The orga­ni­za­tion also is devel­op­ing a micro­grid to be deployed in Afghanistan lat­er this year com­posed of four larg­er gen­er­a­tor sets and sup­port­ing pow­er dis­tri­b­u­tion equip­ment. It would intel­li­gent­ly man­age the pow­er sup­ply to meet demand, reduc­ing fuel con­sump­tion and main­te­nance costs. 

“There’s more inter­est in oper­a­tional ener­gy than at any time in the last 40 years or so,” project man­ag­er Michael Pad­den told the more than 270 con­fer­ence atten­dees. “What can we do to improve effi­cien­cies on the bat­tle­field? What oth­er equip­ment can we get out there? How can we take tankers off the bat­tle­fields and reduce casu­al­ties? The answers are in this room.” 

The office’s stan­dard­ized mil­i­tary gen­er­a­tors also are evolv­ing. The next gen­er­a­tion, known as the Advanced Medi­um Mobile Pow­er Sources, or AMMPS, fam­i­ly, is 21 per­cent more fuel-effi­cient than cur­rent sys­tems while reduc­ing size and weight. While AMMPS field­ing is expect­ed to begin lat­er this year, sev­er­al mod­els were on dis­play at the con­fer­ence for warfight­ers to explore. 

“I’m impressed with the AMMPS from what I’ve seen so far,” said Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Vince DiLore­to, who used the cur­rent Tac­ti­cal Qui­et Gen­er­a­tor mod­els while deployed. DiLore­to said the stan­dard­iza­tion between AMMPS units of dif­fer­ent sizes would sim­pli­fy main­te­nance, and the extra cool­ing fans would reduce a con­di­tion that impairs diesel engines. 

As an “old-school guy,” DiLore­to said, his only con­cern with the tran­si­tion is that the new­er gen­er­a­tors use dig­i­tal con­trol screens in place of dials. But he acknowl­edged that a younger gen­er­a­tion of warfight­ers might pre­fer that. 

“It will prob­a­bly be eas­i­er for them to use a com­put­er than it would be a dial,” he said. 

Oth­er sys­tems on dis­play includ­ed a vari­ety of oth­er small and large pow­er sources, includ­ing the Deploy­able Pow­er Gen­er­a­tion and Dis­tri­b­u­tion Sys­tem, a 30,000-pound trail­er-mount­ed sys­tem sup­ply­ing 840 kilo­watts of pow­er to for­ward oper­at­ing bases and to nat­ur­al dis­as­ter sites in the Unit­ed States. 

“We respond to floods, ice storms and hur­ri­canes,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Nor­ris of the 249th Engi­neer Bat­tal­ion, which relies on the sys­tem. “We have gen­er­a­tors sta­tioned across the country.” 

Near­by, a new 60,000-British-thermal-units-per-hour Improved Envi­ron­men­tal Con­trol Unit rapid­ly cooled the inte­ri­or of a tent, demon­strat­ing its capa­bil­i­ty to pro­tect key tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment from harsh desert tem­per­a­tures. The Marine Corps also demon­strat­ed a Humvee with an in-line gen­er­a­tor cou­pled to the trans­mis­sion that pro­vides 30 kilo­watts of exportable pow­er when sta­tion­ary and 10 kilo­watts when on the move. 

The demon­stra­tions anchored the con­fer­ence, which also includ­ed pre­sen­ta­tion of the “Pow­er Pro­fes­sion­al Awards” to rec­og­nize out­stand­ing achieve­ments across the Defense Depart­ment. The win­ners were Marine Corps Sgt. Vic­to­ria Well­man, Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Tim­o­thy Duvall, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Sil­via Stephens, Air Force Staff Sgt. Mar­cial Gri­nolds, Army Staff Sgt. Michael Kel­ly and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bran­don McCoy. 

Gri­nolds won for sav­ing the Defense Depart­ment $75,000 in ven­dor cours­es by devel­op­ing a train­ing cur­ricu­lum for pow­er gen­er­a­tion spe­cial­ists. He said stan­dard­ized train­ing ensures troops will have “the same lev­el of exper­tise” to pro­vide con­tin­u­ous sup­port for equip­ment on the front lines. 

“You nev­er know about the pow­er guy,” Gri­nolds said, “until the pow­er goes out.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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