Pretty much any time we talk about the transition to clean, renewable energy systems, we talk about the biggest hurdle: storage. The sun doesn't shine at night, and wind is intermittent. That puts these sources at a distinct disadvantage to fossil fuel power sources, which are great at one thing—providing a known amount of power on demand. Large-scale centralized coal plants, for example, can hit high electricity demands in the summer months by simply shoveling in some more coal. But reliability and consistency are also issue on smaller scales. Diesel generators are still used to provide on-demand power to countless energy sucks around the world, from buildings to farms to outdoor events to military camps and convoys.
With the days of $30-a-barrel oil far in the rear view mirror, fossil fuel-based power is a less than ideal solution for pretty much all consumers, but it's a downright dangerous one for the military. As I've written before, the Pentagon and defense experts have become outspoken leaders in the push for a clean energy future, and nowhere is that transition more urgent than on the battlefield. Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, are in constant peril trying to protect fuel supply lines. There is a tragic human cost in bringing cargo loads of diesel and kerosene and oil to forward operating bases in combat zones. (And this is to say nothing of the air quality and health of the troops at these bases.)
So the military is on the forefront of figuring out small-scale, portable renewable energy systems. One incredibly promising innovation is Arista Power's Mobile Renewable Power Station, which was shown last month at the National Defense Industrial Association's Power Expo, and is currently being tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
The mobile system harnesses power and wind, but also solves the storage problem. Arista explains:
Energy storage allows the flexibility to use the generated power when needed, rather than only when it is being created. The MRPS converts solar and wind power to energy through their respective chargers and the energy is then stored in a battery bank that are designed for extended cycle life, high capacity, environmentally capable and reasonable cost. Through a power inverter, the stored energy is distributed through a circuit breaker panel and can be distributed in a variety of voltages (AC and DC) and connections.
So, basically, these mobile systems include wind and solar generators (Arista's unique turbine design is pictured above), power inverters (which are typical with any wind or solar device), and an advanced battery storage system, all connected with a mini smart grid. These "Power on Demand" systems are getting rave reviews at Aberdeen, and the military is planning on introducing them in the field soon.
As the largest energy consumer in the country, the U.S. military can really help develop and drive the market for clean energy products like these mobile on-demand systems. Regardless of how you feel about the military-industrial complex and war, the Pentagon's support of distributed, renewable power is a good thing.