The top U.S. military commander in western Iraq is requesting shipments of renewable energy systems in an attempt to reduce the time fuel convoys spend on roads where they are susceptible to attack from insurgents using makeshift bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.
"To improve the security posture of the al-Anbar province of Iraq, [Multi-National Force-West] requires a renewable and self-sustainable energy solution to support forward operating bases, combat outposts and observation posts throughout MNF-W's battlespace," a Joint Staff Rapid Validation and Resourcing Request certified by MNF-W leaders states. Inside the Pentagon obtained a copy of the document.
Command officials certified the request on July 25 on behalf of Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the MNF-W chief. The request is categorized as a "priority 1" need.
In the document, the region's U.S. military leaders call on the Pentagon to send more renewable energy systems to the country because they could leverage resources like sunlight or wind to produce power for bases and outposts. Commanders assert that tapping renewable energy sources would lessen dependence on fossil fuels -- a move that could save lives.
"A proposed alternate solution -- one that reduces the number of convoys while providing an additional capability to outlying bases -- is to augment our use of fossil fuels with renewable energy, such as photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines, at our outlying bases," the request states. "By reducing the need for [petroleum-based fuels] at our outlying bases, we can decrease the frequency of logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our Marines, soldiers, and sailors."
Forwarding the document is a first step of the "joint urgent operational needs" process, a system designed to vet warfighting requirements that "must be quickly addressed in order to prevent combat-related loss of life and/or mission failure," according to a July 2005 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instruction.
The MNF-W request has not yet reached the Joint Staff, a spokesman for the latter group said Aug. 8.
The logistics convoys moving in and out of the western region of Iraq primarily carry "subsistence" supplies, ammunition, and a "preponderance" of petroleum, the document states.
"Current solutions -- such as providing additional security to our logistics convoys and conducting convoy operations during the hours of darkness -- are inadequate, as they do not reduce the number of convoys on the road," the request adds.
The need to deliver fuel to help generate electrical power at U.S. bases and installations in Iraq is unnecessarily putting troops in "harm's way each time we send out a convoy," the document states.
"If this need is not met, operating forces will remain unnecessarily exposed to IED, RPG, and [small arms fire] threats and will continue to accrue preventable Level III and IV serious and grave casualties resulting from motor vehicle accidents and . . . attacks," the request states. "Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success."
IED is shorthand for improvised explosive device.
Further, the time and effort spent on moving fuel diverts "our focus of effort from developing the Iraqi Security Force," the request states.
"As we transfer control to the Iraqis, the addition of renewable and self-sustainable energy at the outlying bases will enable the Iraqis to operate independently, lessening the need for coalition forces to provide future logistics support," it states.
If fielded, renewable energy systems in the Anbar province could provide commanders with a more reliable command and control capability, sustain the force by offering "key life support functions" in high temperatures, and help save money, the document states.
The request also makes the case that renewable energy is a "viable solution in Iraq" because of the number of sunlight hours per day in the hot, dry region.
The document encloses a list of requirements a successful renewable energy system fielded to Iraq must be able to satisfy in order to enhance present conditions.
Successful systems must operate in arid, tropical, temperate and cold climates, the document states. Further, they must be able to deliver power output from 100 volts to 240 volts and have enough storage capacity to run continuously for a minimum of 24 hours, it adds. Any generator components not solely run by renewable energy sources must be able to use jet propulsion fuels.
In addition, the systems must be capable of long-term storage and be transportable by a range of military vehicles, the document states.
The request singles out the Mobile Power System (MPS), a renewable energy technology manufactured by Arlington, VA-based SkyBuilt Power, as one that could meet mission needs.
MPS "provides renewable energy solutions consisting of solar, wind, fuel cells, and micro-hydro power, with or without fuel-based systems," the request states.
The power station can be transported in a standard shipping container, which can then be used to support solar panels, wind turbines or gasoline-powered generators, Dave Muchow, president and CEO of SkyBuilt Power, told ITP Aug. 8.
Once the system is deployed, the transporting container can be used for a myriad of other, non-energy related functions like housing a command and control center, Muchow said.
Further, Muchow sees MPS as a viable system for deployed forces because of its simple operating methods and its ability to "plug and play."
The request also cites the speed with which systems can be employed and the minimal maintenance required to sustain them as more reasons for using the devices.
Most solar panels built today have a minimum work life of 20 to 30 years with a degradation of five to 10 percent, Muchow said. Wind turbines typically last three to five years, and need to be monitored at three-month intervals, he added.
"Comparison of the true costs (capital costs, maintenance, fuel, fuel logistics, etc.) of a 10 kilowatt diesel generator shows that a SkyBuilt Power MPS solar/battery system can cut those costs by at [least 75 percent] while improving reliability, saving manpower [and] spare parts, reducing or eliminating fuel costs, handling, and logistics, and providing a low heat signature," the request states.
"The up-front capital costs of a 10 kilowatt diesel generator are around [$7,500-$10,000], much less than a MPS (around $100,000 depending on the configuration), but after only [three to five] years these costs are recovered," the document states.
The request calls for 183 renewable energy systems of various power outputs to be fielded to bases and outposts that are manned by Regimental Combat Teams, Brigade Combat Teams and Border Transition Teams.
The systems, which are manufactured in Virginia and Maryland, would take a "good number of months" to build if the military decides to buy such a quantity, Muchow said. Presently there are no Mobile Power Systems fielded in Iraq, he added.
Last year, In-Q-Tel, a venture capital group established by the CIA, partnered with SkyBuilt Power to develop renewable energy power stations, Muchow said. In-Q-Tel invests primarily in companies that are developing cutting-edge technologies for potential national security applications. -- Rati Bishnoi