US Army looks at ‘solar tents’ to harness light energy

11 Jan 2011

The United States Army is weighing up the idea of buying into solar-powered shades and tent-like technologies to power devices while soldiers are on overseas missions.

According to a news release on its website, the US Army is evaluating flexible, portable, lightweight solar-powered shades and tent-like technologies so that soldiers can access electrical power to charge batteries, computers and other gear without the need to haul around heavy fuel loads or generators while overseas.

The Army is looking into flexible photovoltaics (PV) technology, so that solar-powered tent structures can convert light energy into electricity.

“They are ideal for charging up batteries, making sure your (communications), night vision goggles and computers are powered up. You don’t want a generator on top of a mountain, and you don’t want to have to bring fuel to a generator or haul batteries,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

The US Army has already deployed some of these PV technologies to locations around the world for additional evaluation, sending some to places such as Afghanistan, said Steven Tucker, a senior engineer in the Shelters Technology, Engineering and Fabrication Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research Design and Engineering Center.

Amorphous silicon

Hammack added the Army is hoping to deploy more of the solar-powered tents in the near future.

“The technology has reached the point where the testing has shown they (solar-powered tents) are proven. Our teams have worked on the inverters and the durability of the systems. The durability of the tent covers has evolved to a point where we would like to see more of them deployed.”

Added Tucker: “The technology we are using is called amorphous silicon. It’s been around since the early Eighties. It takes the energy from the sun – photons. They (photons) go into the PV materials and they essentially knock loose electrons. Those electrons are then gathered and utilised for power, converting solar power to electrical power.”

He said the TEMPER Fly is a 16-by-20-foot tent structure able to generate 800 watts of electricity. Meanwhile, a QUADrant is a smaller variant of the TEMPER Fly, able to generate 200 watts of power.

3kW of power generation

Ranging in size, the power shades are capable of generating up to 3kW of exportable electrical power, Tucker said.

“Alternative energy sources are really going to shine in mission scenarios where you don’t want to use a generator because you don’t want the noise or heat signature that goes along with it, or where re-supplying that generator with fuel doesn’t make sense,” he added.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic