Marine Corps' portable solar-energy units mean fewer IED deaths

Tuesday - 4/10/2012, 8:46pm EDT

Michael Gallagher, project manager, Expeditionary Power Systems, Marine Corps Systems Command

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The Defense Department is the single largest consumer of energy in the world, and as part of a broad strategy to shift consumption to renewable sources, the Marine Corps is rolling out its Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System (GREENS). Project manager Michael Gallagher told In Depth with Francis Rose that GREENS saves not only fossil fuels and money, but also lives.

GREENS is a portable hybrid solar-energy system capable of producing 300 watts of continuous energy to forward-operating bases in Afghanistan. The units can be rapidly deployed and transported by Humvee.

"So for the very small operating bases where they may have 50 Marines or so — a couple of radios, a couple of laptops, a couple of battery chargers — pretty much take care of their mission needs," Gallagher said.

Training to operate the systems takes about an hour, and money saved from cutting fuel convoys means the units "pay for themselves" within three weeks.

But that misses the point, Gallagher said.

"The cost benefit can be measured in dollars and cents, but really how we measure is the ability to take fuel tanks off the road. That allows us to protect the Marines and not have them exposed to as many of the explosive devices over there," he said.

The Marine Corps began developing the technology in 2007 to support forward-deployed Marines in Iraq. GREENS units arrived in Afghanistan last year.

"We were able to leverage the technology over to the new battlefield," he said.

GREENS were built with "modularity" in mind, so as solar-panel and battery technology improves, components can be easily swapped out for smaller, more efficient parts.