Military’s Mobile Solar Systems

The U.S. military has been instrumental in developing new technology, helping it develop so that it can be adopted by the private and consumer markets. The military has geared up another project that allows for large scale mobile solar energy systems.

As traditional energy costs and the military’s need for energy continue to rise solar technology for remote locations has become an interesting prospect brought on by SunDial Capital Partners.

Founded in 2009, SunDial created a mobile solar energy unit specific for on the move military operations and operations in remote locations. These units come in 20-foot long containers that are packed with 120 photovoltaic panels that can be set up into a fully functional solar field within 2 hours. Once unpacked, the container itself can then be used as a field operations facility.

A single unit can produce 28.8 kW of power and charge 64 storage batteries stored in the container’s floor so that the power can be used in the container at night. If the battery power begins to dwindle, a diesel generator kicks in to provide power until the sun comes up and the panels begin producing power causing the generator to shut off.

Though the military recognizes climate change as a potential threat to national security, right now, the military is imploring these renewable energy projects as a tactical move. With the ability to pick up and go within a few hours, remote areas that were previously unsuitable because of the diesel fuel needed to be transported can now be accessed. Relying almost completely on renewable energy decreases the need for costly and dangerous convoys for fuel. Self-sufficiency improves reliability, mobility, and most importantly, safety for our troops.

The idea of a mobile solar unit can apply to more contexts than just military. Anyone hoping to operate off the grid could benefit from this solar/battery/diesel hybrid system–from disaster relief efforts and rural electrification to powering outdoor concert events. With the military known for taking technologies out of their testing phases and proving viability, any private sector skeptics will be able to see applications of these hybrid systems and apply them to their specific needs.

One Score and One Year Ago…

One score and one year ago, our EPA brought forth a new regulation to bring upon clean air and acid free rain, that would take until December 21, 2011 to be brought into effect.

21 years after being first mandated by Congress, the EPA released air pollution regulations that require power plants to lower dangerous smokestack emissions.

Giving the companies three years, power plants have to cut the emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to match the 12% of the cleanest plants–however the EPA has made it clear that if more time is “necessary” to achieve these goals, it is available.

This is an important regulation as power plants emit half of the mercury and cause more than 75% of the acid gas emissions in the US, according to the EPA. The EPA estimates that by cutting these toxic emissions it will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms a year.

Currently, only 12% of the nations power plants meet these standards (hence them being the mark others strive for) while 48% have some, if not all, the necessary technologies in order to achieve these standards. Unfortunately, the left over 40% have no technology in place to just flip the switch on. As Lisa Jackson (EPA Administrator) told USA Today, “[they] have done nothing, they have no controls, they emit unlimited amounts of pollutants, they have no technology in place.”

But what would regulations be without cockamamie claims to try to avoid them?

In attempts to thwart EPA regulations, power plants have been arguing a number of angles against the regulations from: it will make electricity more expensive and less reliable; to, it will bring economic hardships.

Perhaps if families don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars a year in medical expenses for the toxic pollutants they’re exposed to in the air they breath and water they drink, they could afford to spend a little more to pay for energy. In theory I could see how electricity reliability might decrease for a period of time with construction or alterations of the plants, but that isn’t a long term problem. In fact, the EPA and Department of Energy don’t foresee any problems with regards to power failures or blackouts.

As far as economic hardships go, the EPA estimates that with manufacturing, engineering, installation, and maintenance, pollution standards will provide employment for thousands potentially including 46,000 short term construction jobs. Now, unless the power plants are referring to economic hardships they themselves will suffer for having to pay for these regulations…I’m not sure I can sympathize with their qualms.

Though these regulations will decrease the amount of pollutants being spewed into the environment, they won’t get rid of them all together (after all there’s no such thing as “clean coal“). And since the EPA doesn’t seem hell-bent on enforcing the three year timeline for having the necessary technology in place to reduce said emissions, in theory power plants could stretch actual implementation out for decades–and by that time most of these power plants will have reached the end of their useful lives as they’re (on average) 50 years old–I’m not sure what they’re complaining about.

If Not Your Backyard, Then Whose?

There are a multitude of things people don’t want in their backyards, and for good reason…chemical plants, coal fired power plants, nuclear waste facilities, incinerators, wind turbines, solar farms…

Sustainable Sunflowers

Wait, what?

Let’s back up a minute.

Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) is a movement that gained serious momentum in the 1980’s and represents strong community oriented opposition to certain types of development.

This morning I read an article about NIMBY movements going global, and how most of these movements were strongly opposed to the industrial projects (power plants, chemical plants, landfills etc.), and to my great surprise, the renewable energy industry.  The article went on to describe that ‘young’, ‘controversial’ industries are more subject to NIMBY resistance than traditional businesses.

I read this sentence not once, but three times. The way this sentence reads to me is that people would rather have “traditional” forms of energy–like coal–in their backyards instead of this newfangled energy we like to call wind and solar.

In theory, NIMBY a good system. No neighborhood should be subjected to the negative consequences of industry–air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution–so close to their homes and families.

No neighborhood. 

The fact of the matter is, this isn’t the case. Chemical plants, coal fired power plants, nuclear waste facilities, and incinerators do go in someone’s backyard, and that backyard usually belongs to minority neighborhoods with low socioeconomic statuses, and little political clout.

Environmental racism, policies that disproportionately heave environmental hazards on minority communities, is a large part of the NIMBY movement, and at the root of environmental disparities.

If communities are shouting, “Not in my backyard!” to wind and solar projects, will that mean these projects will move to low income neighborhoods? If wind and solar energy is sidled off to low income neighborhoods, is that preferable to a power plant polluting poorer communities despite the mechanisms behind it?

Will large scale wind and solar projects even end up in low income neighborhoods? Does this mean dirty energy will continue to prevail as we are accustomed to it as our main energy sustenance?

I realize people might think wind and solar farms are an eyesore. I personally find them mesmerizing and beautiful, though it’s not my opinion that matters at this moment. The fact is, we need to obtain energy some how and if we’re not developing and progressing in the energy sector, we’re at a dirty standstill–one that puts minorities and low income neighborhoods at a disproportionate risk to environmental hazards–to power our iPhones and Macbooks.

Not In My Backyard is a powerful movement, one that is important to protecting communities from harmful environmental risks. If you’re opposing wind and solar farms in your neighborhood, that is, of course, your choice, but you could do a lot worse. Your opposition could mean that these projects are being sidled off onto poor communities–and that’s practically a good scenario–in comparison to what could happen which is dirty “traditional” energy continuing to ravish the energy sector and communities not being able to resist it being in their backyard.

Thanks to this environmental justice article for supplying a good read and valuable information.