Experimental solar shade in Djibouti provides constant power
Soldiers erect durable and flexible solar shade panels for deployment at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

VICENZA, Italy - The silence of nonpolluting solar energy at work will someday replace the hum of muffled generators in remote field locations.

Maj. Tim Franklin from the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command is the lead in coordinating an experiment using flexible solar cells that could eventually save millions in Army fuel costs. In fact, the project was recently nominated for recognition in the Annual Secretary of the Army Energy and Water Management Awards because of the more than $230,000 savings by using the solar shade.

The concept is simple - flexible solar cells affixed to a sun shelter then connected to a system of storage batteries.

"Solar shade produces two kilowatts of power -- that may not seem like a lot, but in a remote area it's perfect because you don't have to worry about transporting fuel or replacing parts," Franklin said. "You could place this on a remote mountain site to provide power for a radio retransmission site [since] it requires very little maintenance," Franklin said.

The flexible solar cell system is quiet, requires minimal maintenance, produces clean energy from the sun, works at night pending storage batteries charged, is cost effective and operates in an area as small as 40 by 60 feet, he said.

Franklin added that the heart of the solar shade consist of four Hawker High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle batteries with a balancing system featuring a simple voltage meter with a 110 volt power inverter.

In July 2010, with the help of Kansas Army National Guardsmen assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, Franklin along with Steve Tucker, the lead for alternative power programs at U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center, traveled to Djibouti to set-up the solar shade.

Running on fans, hand-held radio chargers and lights, the system has been cranking out two kilowatts of power daily, Franklin said.

"Soldiers with the Kansas Guard have been using the shade every day since last July - it has even survived some storms that damaged other structures," Franklin said. "In the near future, [Steve and I] will travel to Djibouti to train a new group of CJTF - HOA Kansas National Guard Soldiers on use of the solar shade."

Because of the overall benefits, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa wants to keep the equipment and have added it to their property books since they plan to use it in other locations and on other missions in Africa.

"The solar shade produces power and gets about 70 to 80 percent blockage of the sun, so the shade is cooler than many of tents or shades used now and it produces clean energy from the sun," Franklin said.

"You're actually reducing the use of air conditioning units too, so there's really a triple benefit along with the free clean source of energy," he said.

Franklin concluded that they haven't yet heard how they fared in the 33rd Annual Secretary of the Army Energy and Water Management Awards, but to be nominated is such an honor.

Page last updated Tue May 17th, 2011 at 09:52