Solar power lights up Southwest Asia

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Timothy Boyer
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Air Force leaders are continually looking for means to do things leaner and cleaner, even in deployed locations.

It probably goes unnoticed by most people here, but solar-powered light carts are paving the road to an environmentally friendlier future in Southwest Asia.

These new light carts save the Air Force time and money while helping to maintain a cleaner environment than the diesel light carts still in use on the installation. The difference in the two light carts is the operating cost.

Operating costs for the solar-light cart are minimal. The fuel comes from the sun collected by solar panels and wind power to operate the turbines. The fuel, maintenance and operational cost of a diesel-powered light cart is approximately $12,000 per year, according to Curt Williams, the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron environmental program manager. The payback period for the solar light carts is only about 2.5 years. Throughout a ten-year period, each solar light cart will save the Air Force more than $90,000 in operating costs compared to the diesel light carts.

The diesel-powered light carts require periodic maintenance that produces hazardous waste that must be disposed of properly, Williams said. In addition, the diesel light carts require secondary containment to prevent leaking fuel or oil from getting into the ground.

"With the solar light carts, there is no organic fuel, oil, filters or secondary containment to maintain," he said. "They run completely off stored battery power produced from both the solar panels by day and a wind turbine by night. The electrical power is stored in a battery bank to provide power for the LED lights."

There is very little maintenance required on these units, saving countless man hours, Williams said.

"The only maintenance required on the solar carts is pressure washing the solar panels, which takes about four minutes per unit, and any adjustments to the timing mechanism to ensure operation from dusk to dawn," he said.

Another improvement, one that Airmen and Soldiers can appreciate, is the reduction of noise. Two of these new light carts are located housing areas where quiet hours for service members on crew rest are observed 24 hours a day.

"There is zero noise because there is no engine," Williams said. "These units are completely electric."

The vision of a more eco-and-wallet-friendly future is clear.

"It's going to take time and resources," Williams said. "We currently have about 50 diesel-powered light carts on base. The goal is to ultimately replace those with solar and turbine-powered light carts. As we do that, we will no longer require noisy and potentially dirty generators to power them, so we will be able to phase those out, saving man hours and money on operational costs. We're always looking for ways to reduce our environmental footprint, and this is one means to help accomplish that," Williams said.