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US Air Force unveils solar+battery microgrid that could be deployed in less than an hour

Microgrids using solar and batteries have primarily been deployed in remote communities, like Tesla’s Powerpack projects in a resort in the Fiji Islands and an entire island in the American Samoa, because they are more easily deployed than power plants and becoming cheaper than diesel generators.

For the same reasons, the military has also been closely following and developing the technology. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) unveiled this week its own “operating base of the future demonstration” using a battery- and solar-powered microgrid.

In a news release this week, APTO describes a need for “cost-effective, resilient and agile energy supplies” to be deployed in “diverse field environments”.

The engineer in charge of the project, Air Force 1st Lt. Jason Goins, said about the announcement:

“We learned a lot over the past year. We demonstrated feasibility and where to go next in terms of making complete microgrid systems. Pieces of individual equipment have been demonstrated separately, and by combining them into a microgrid we learned how well they worked synergistically.”

The microgrid system pictured above has been tested during Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio over the last year.

The solar panels are placed on top of each tent for energy production and a trailer, at center of the tent,” holds the hardware, software and lithium-ion batteries that form the smart grid and provide energy backup should the grid fail.”

Goins says that the system could be deployed in less than an hour:

“We are taking what we learned and applying it to a rapidly deployable system. We are looking at something that will be set up and deployed in an hour. If you can power a shelter in 30 minutes with affordable solar and wind, that’s spectacular.”

Tech developments for military use have often resulted in improvements to commercially available civilian technologies and we could see a similar situation happening with microgrids.

APTO is working on other products to improve on its current microgrid concepts, like bulletproof solar panels and lightweight wind power that can be quickly deployed to make the grid more stable.

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