FORT KNOX, Ky., Aug. 16, 2011 -- Since the environmental movement began, measures that are kinder to the Earth are generally called "green." That being the case, the Fort Knox Directorate of Emergency Services ranks with leprechauns and shamrocks for green-ness.
The electric motor carts -- essentially golf carts -- which Fort Knox purchased must be plugged into an electric charger. They don't hold a charge long enough for most police uses, so they weren't popular with Directorate of Emergency Services, or DES.
"Their top speed was 25 mph for 25 minutes," said Bob Knoll, the vehicle manager at DES. "That's not helpful for the DES."
However, one day Knoll was talking with James Hubley at the motor pool and they both started thinking out loud about solar panels. They wondered if the panels would work on a car.
Well, of course they would, they both concluded -- since there are now commercial vehicles using solar panels for peripheral functions.
But could they generate enough power to keep the cart going all day? Police work doesn't lend itself to a sudden loss of mobility if the cart's power charge should be exhausted while officers are on the job. The two kept pondering the possibilities and Knoll decided to research who might provide solar panels that would suit the needs of the Fort Knox DES.
His research paid off, and DES is now the proud owner of two golf carts that operate exclusively on the power of the sun. The adaptation only adds capabilities to the cart's original function and loses nothing in the process.
"It's a win-win situation," said Lt. Col. Robert Schiller, the Fort Knox provost marshal.
"I get access in large crowds and can still help people. The cart is small enough to maneuver but large enough to hold a stretcher if there's a medical situation. I expect to use (the carts) at the big concert this weekend."
Knoll and Schiller both raved about the advantages of the solar-powered cart.
-- It's a fully functional law enforcement vehicle equipped with turn signals, running lights, flashing emergency lights.
-- On the solar panel charge, the cart can run non-stop all day.
-- The battery can be fully charged in two hours.
-- It's not possible to overcharge the battery.
-- The solar panels continue to charge under any light condition -- full sun, partly cloudy, or even under a street light -- although at varying rates.
-- The cost of the solar panel is just slightly more than the special charger needed to plug the carts in for an electric charge.
-- The carts still have the capability to be charged electrically, if needed.
"But if you have to plug it in, it's really not that green, is it?" Knoll said. "If you need electricity to charge something, you're not green because (electricity) is coal-driven. The carts are reliable and more usable now. We can't afford to worry about vehicles breaking now."
Although most of the officers are reluctant to use the cart, some are beginning to want their turn behind the wheel.
"It's really cool," said Knoll. "In many ways -- it's really cool."