Logistics: Renewable Energy In The Combat Zone


July 14, 2009: Delivering fuel has become a growing problem for American military units. For one thing, there are more things that need fuel, or electricity (supplied by generators in the combat zone) Commanders are finding that more of their combat troops are being tied up protecting resupply convoys carrying the growing amount of fuel needed. The trucks carrying fuel and ammunition are particularly vulnerable, and American troops are proud of the fact that very few of these, very explosive, vehicles have been lost in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's because fuel and ammo convoys get air cover and lots of experienced ground troops, armored vehicles and expert planning to make sure the enemy never has a good chance to light up one of the supply trucks. That increases the cost of delivering fuel. Thus delivering a gallon of fuel costs $13 in Afghanistan (and nearly as much, when the combat was most intense in 2007, in Iraq). This assumes the fuel itself costs $2 a gallon. The most expensive delivery system is aerial tankers, that keep the bombers and fighters flying over the battlefield. This fuel costs about $42 a gallon.

Commanders have done the math and realized that, if they could use renewable forms of energy at bases in remote battlefields, fewer truckloads of fuel would be required, and more combat troops out there could be chasing hostile forces. As a result, the commanders are calling for more shipments of solar panels, wind turbine generators and fuel cell generators. All three of these technologies are available off-the-shelf, as they are used by commercial operations with facilities in remote areas. In these cases it's cheaper to use these renewable electricity sources, even though the juice is more expensive (because of the higher cost of the solar panels, wind turbines or fuel cell technology) per kilowatt, because of the high cost of transporting diesel oil to the remote locations.

SOCOM has taken the lead in checking out these renewable energy sources as a better way to provide electricity to Special Forces detachments in isolated areas.





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