US Air Force deploys solar power with push-button self-assembling tent

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was the legendary birthplace of America’s mightiest warships from 1801 until 1966, when it ceased producing warships. Fortunately, the sprawling facility has come back to life as a hub of cleantech innovation. That includes solar power, and the Air Force is counting on Brooklyn-based Pvilion Solar to help support the green combat force of the future under the new Agile Combat Employment directive.

Solar power and tents

Despite all the technological advances in military systems over the past 1,000 or so years, mobile shelters have seen few fundamental changes. Expeditionary forces still rely on tents and canopies to keep the elements at bay.

Forces on the move are also dependent on the fuel and water that moves with them, a subject that has been exposed with all its deadly consequences in the form of bomb-vulnerable supply convoys during the war in Iraq, and more recently during of Russia’s murderous rampage through Ukraine.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Marine Corps and US Army began to look to renewable energy as a solution to the problem of the energy-water expeditionary nexus, with an emphasis on solar power.

In addition to avoiding fuel transportation costs, solar power reduces the need for noisy and polluting gas or diesel generators. With solar power in play, camp fighters are less exposed to health and safety risks. Reduced noise-induced stress levels are another benefit for combat readiness.

More solar power flexibility

The US military seems to be the first to take an interest in the idea of ​​equipping its tents and awnings with solar energy. In 2010, members of the Kansas Army National Guard were already deploying a photovoltaic tent in Djibuti, in the form of a solar-plus-storage mashup with batteries from a Hawker High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (aka, generically, the humvee).

The US Marine Corps began introducing portable photovoltaic panels to the field in 2009, and it was also experimenting with photovoltaic tents in 2011. Not to be overwhelmed, in 2013 the military introduced the idea of ​​replacing a tent in flexible fabric by a new system that combines a solar awning with a structure made of light and energy-efficient walls. The idea is to maximize the overall efficiency of the system by conserving the production of the solar canopies.

The Pvilion solar tent solution

Pvilion Solar made PV-compatible tents, awnings and solar sails For more than 20 years. He first beat through the Clean Technica radar just a few years ago, in 2017, so we have some catching up to do.

Back in 2020, the United States Air Force Rapid Support Office commissioned Pvilion to develop and deliver a solar-powered self-expanding tent, called HEXT for Hands-Off Expeditionary Tent.

Personnel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska deployed the HEXT system to their flight line during exercise “Polar Force 22-4” on March 31, which focused on the new Agile Combat Employment directive. They have given technology a big boost.

The HEXT system appears to rely on the structure-plus-canopy idea, to achieve maximum energy efficiency.

“The tents…have a 42 inch by 42 inch footprint when packed and on a pallet. Airmen can unload them, plug them into a battery bank, press a button and you almost walk away; within three minutes the tent was set up in a 20ft by 20ft shelter with windows and doors, 11ft high,” enthused JBER public affairs officer Chris McCann in an article. released by the base last week.

The Solar Angle comes in the form of Pvilion’s Solar Powered Integrated Structure, which is a solar canopy that can be mounted on the same frame as the tent. Alternatively, the SPIS awning can be extended over any available surface including other structures, vehicles and bare ground.

“The panels power rugged battery packs that almost snap together – a modular system. The first airmen arriving on the spot can bring one or two batteries, the following troops bringing more if necessary. When the mission is complete, the majority can be removed, leaving only one or two for the last necessary power elements,” McCann added.

Reliable solar power for the US Air Force

Reliability being the key driver of mobile power for military use, the SPIS kit is equipped with a conventional generator to back up its batteries when needed. The generator and the batteries have a continuous conversation and can switch seamlessly between them.

As for output, McCann noted that the SIPS kit can deliver up to 12,000 watts, which is the same power needed to run an entire home, including extras like tools and computers, as well as an HVAC system and other large appliances.

JBER provides the Air Force with the opportunity to test the effectiveness of the solar canopy in cold weather. We assume all went well, based on McCann’s comments and the performance of other PV systems in cold weather. The system is also tested elsewhere in the United States for a range of temperatures and weather conditions.

Solar energy and the link between energy and water

Another site testing the system is Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, which also hosts another Air Force project that showcases Pvilion’s solar technology, under the name Project Arcwater.

The Arcwater project was born thanks to the 2022 Air Force “Spark Tank” Innovation Competition. Created by Senior Master Sgt. Brent Kenney and Technical Sgt. Matthew Connelly of the 52nd Fighter Wing in Spangdahlem AB, he combines moisture capture technology with solar energy.

“Water and electricity are non-negotiable when it comes to setting up an advanced mining site. But it’s not to get fuel and water on the spot. What if we could generate from nothing? Project Arcwater is an agile combat employment system that aims to dramatically reduce the logistics of transporting water and energy needs to off-grid locations through solar panels, a water harvester, and an air conditioning tool/ heating, creating 26 gallons of potable water from the thin air,” the Air Force explains.

“The Arcwater Project is an Agile Combat Employment initiative that addresses the logistical challenges associated with moving large amounts of water and fuel to forward operating sites. The project aims to provide off-grid energy using solar energy and atmospheric water harvesting. The solution is designed to be independent of the local infrastructure, easy to move, easy to configure and easy to use”, add its creators.

To verify the video of the Arcwater project for more details, and if you are wondering what Agile combat employment is, It’s a good question. ACE doctrine is a recent development that grew out of the challenges of the Air Force in the Pacific. It was adopted throughout the Air Force last December.

The ACE doctrine includes a logistics component that emphasizes local supply, transportable systems, and speed of installation. Considering that the Air Force also proposed the vision of a carbon negative future for the entire Department of Defense, it’s a safe bet that solar and other renewables will be front and center as ACE Doctrine unfolds.

follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Pvilion engineers deploy the PV-compatible awning during the Polar Force 22-4 training exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska (Credit: Airman 1st Class Andrew Britten).


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