Life Saving Solar


Life Saving SolarPortable Solar Units help to keep Marines safe in Afghanistan.

To say that the Sangin district in Afghanistan is a hostile environment would be an understatement. British forces attempted to take control of the area for several years, but sustained heavy losses and recently handed over the area to US troops. The terrain is rough, the inhabitants belligerent and the elements harsh. The one thing it has in abundance is sunshine. Innovative personnel from the 3rd Battalion and 5th Marine Regiment have found a way to turn the blazing sun into a life-saving asset.

ExFOB – the Environmental Forward Operating Base – which consists of a number of portable solar units, provides personnel with a reliable source of energy. Energy is supplied by the following portable solar units:

  • Radios are powered by Solar Portable Alternate Communication Systems (SPACES) which are flexible, portable solar panels that can be carried in a pack.
  • Lighting in tents is provided by PowerShade – a tarp made of solar material that fits over the tent.
  • Computers are powered by Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Systems (GREENS) which are portable solar units that are easy to assemble and transport,
  • The majority of the base’s power is provided by a ZeroBase Regenerator – a portable solar array capable of sustaining 20 lighting systems and 15 computers.

Aside from the positive environmental benefits and reductions in fuel costs, ExFOB portable solar units supply personnel with essential energy for logistics and communications. The 20 gallons of fuel utilized daily have been reduced to 2.5 gallons. This significantly curtails the number of supply convoys needed; providing fewer opportunities for convoy drivers to fall victim to IEDs. Since Marines have to carry less fuel and fewer generators, they have more space for supplies and ammunition. They are more mobile and have a constant, reliable source of energy. The sound of running generators carries in the barren landscapes of Sangin. Noiseless solar panels help to conceal the position of the base. All these factors contribute to saving lives.

Life Saving Solar

Photo by Gunnery Sergeant William Price

Major General Sadlier said of the units using this experimental technology: “The Marines were very innovative and came up with ways to use the equipment that was not even thought of before their employment.” In the hands of capable Marines, portable solar units are kicking ass and taking names.

Portable Solar Solutions


How Sunlight Saves Disaster Victims

When natural disasters strike, the most desperate needs are for shelter, food and water. The disruption of electric services hamper relief efforts, expose victims to harsh environmental conditions and prevent hospitals and catering facilities from providing much-needed assistance to the population.

Water Sources

Solar Solutions

Photo by Melanie Gonick

Water is the most urgent need and the team at MIT’s Space and Robotics Lab has come up with a prototype for a solar powered desalination unit. The device utilizes photovoltaic cells to power reverse osmosis pumps. These push water through a permeable membrane to remove impurities, salt and other minerals from sea water, and produce 80 gallons of fresh drinking water a day. The team plans to build a larger unit capable of increasing output to 1 000 liters a day. This unit can be used in disaster relief operations and also in areas which are remote enough to make provisions of water and electricity logistically challenging. A C-130 Cargo plane can transport up to a dozen of the larger units, providing water to 10 000 people.

Providing Electricity

In the past, diesel generators have been used to provide temporary electricity to disaster survivors, but these pose several problems. Generators are cumbersome and difficult to transport, especially to areas where roads, rail and bridges have been damaged. Generators require fossil fuel and produce large amounts of noise and air pollution. Improper use by inexperienced personnel has resulted in burns, fuel spills, fires, explosions and even asphyxiation. Transporting incendiary fuels during a disaster can be difficult at best.
Solar provides a good alternative. However, PV cells are fragile and break easily, making transport problematic. They also require experienced technicians to orient and assemble the panels, wiring and inverter while monitoring loads on the system. Enter stage left; the portable solar generator. These systems expedite the establishment of services to disaster stricken areas. Portable solar generators are self-contained and new developments in battery technology (deep cycle silicone batteries) ensure that they can operate for extended time periods, in extreme weather conditions, and unlike lead-acid batteries, they are environmentally friendly. If the terrain permits transportation, the trailer can charge while traveling. Alternatively, it can be airlifted to remote or cut-off areas. The trailer also provides room to transport supplies and provisions. Once it arrives on the scene, the portable solar generator is easy to set up and requires no expertise to run up to 3, 500 watt loads.
Portable Solar Solutions

Solar Powered Sea Container Cafes


portable solar powerKenya recently received the first mobile solar internet cafe. Six solar panels provide 12 hours of power to the 11 flat screen computers which run off a Pentium PC. The panels last  up to 25 years and the containers can be shipped and set up in a matter of minutes using cellular, WiFi or VSAT connections. The idea was developed by UK based NGO, Computer Aid International which refurbishes and distributes computers to developing countries. To date, over 175 000 PCs have made their way to over 100 developing countries thanks to these philanthropic pioneers.

In developing countries, power is a problem. That’s when the creative crew came up with the concept of the solar powered internet cafe in a sea container. The container was designed in the UK and shipped to Nairobi.

Plans are afoot for more mobile cafes across the world. These cafes can be used to connect remote communities, gain exposure for NGO’s and provide online education for teachers, students and health care workers.

Some disadvantages of this system are the costs of sea containers, shipping and the difficulty in transporting the sea containers to remote areas on what we would hesitate to call a road. SolarLine’s portable solar generators offer solutions to these problems. Solar panels are mounted onto a trailer, which provides users with space for equipment. The generators require almost no maintenance or fossil fuels and produce zero emissions. Sturdy trailers make for easy transportation in difficult conditions.

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