Eielson Airmen research alternative energy resources

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Snyder
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Air Force Technical Applications Center Airmen operating at 12 remote locations throughout Alaska are pursuing alternate means for energy.

The Airmen of Det. 460, a tenant unit at Eielson Air Force Base, operate in units powered by propane, but now solar power may become a reality even though there are times of the year when the sun shines less than four hours a day here.

"It seems we have advanced in technology to the point where solar systems in the dark arctic conditions of Alaska are viable and now we must overcome the old mindset that Alaska is just too dark in the winter for solar power," said Master Sgt. Andrew Morgan, the Det. 460 superintendent.

The Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks uses other power systems at their remote sites and has shared that information. Sergeant Morgan said having that information prompted the detachment to seek a better power solution.

While collaborating and sharing data with UAF on their already operational renewable energy sites, Det. 460 Airmen go out to each site and collect their own information using a solar pathfinder that provides a fast, accurate solar site analysis. In a matter of minutes, the solar pathfinder shows the year-round, site-specific solar data to determine the best location and angle to setup solar panels.

"It is this great effort that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and will have less impact on the environment, but it is also a huge savings for the military, government and ultimately the American taxpayer. That's something we can all get behind," said Maj. Anthony DeLuca, the Det. 460 commander.

Currently Det. 460 members plan on constructing a solar hybrid power system at seven different locations at a cost of $10,000 per site. Maintenance of this system consists of periodic battery replacement every five to eight years at a low cost of $2,000 to $3,000 per entire battery bank. Once the system is installed and the initial cost is paid, the estimated maintenance cost over a five-year period will be $21,000 compared to the current propane system that runs at $160,000.

"The price for all fossil fuels is skyrocketing, and propane is no exception. We've incurred a steady 10 to 15 percent every year on propane cost with no plateau price anticipated in the near future," Major DeLuca said.

Some of the challenges with having propane though aren't about money.

Since these sites are off the beaten path, Det. 460 Airmen must make several trips hauling smaller propane tanks in a sled behind a snow machine or airlift taking an average of 300 man-hours to maintain proper fuel levels at all site locations. The 1,000 gallon main propane tanks are stored underground and connected to thermo electric generators. Propane also has a problem of liquefying at temperatures of negative 50 and lower causing the pilot light to go out. The Airmen then have to make a trip out to the location to replace or fix any parts that broke during the flameout period; this cost accrues an average of $500 per visit and averaging two to four re-light trips a winter.

"Anytime a thermo electric generator fails, it requires immediate maintenance to restore these critical national sensors back to operational status; and a long snow machine ride in these arctic temperatures to these remote sites are very challenging and pose dangerous exposure conditions to our Airmen," said Staff Sgt. Stewart Raring, the Det. 460 site supervisor.

As with anything different, things have to be worked out and looked at all angles, something which Det. 460 members are actively doing.

"We're still working on a technical solution proposal for our headquarters, AFTAC. Once they have approved the engineering solution, we'll take the funded proposal to 354th Fighter Wing leadership and 354th Civil Engineer Squadron to lay out the tactical implementation of the final alternate solar power solution," Sergeant Morgan said. 

Det. 460 is the largest field detachment in Air Force Technical Applications Center, based out of Patrick AFB, Fla.

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page