US Army Evaluating Solar Powered Tents

The U.S. Army is running field trials on a variety of flexible, portable, lightweight solar-powered tents and shade structures.

The structures, incorporating thin film solar panels, will allow for the on-site production of power for charging batteries, computers and other critical electronics without needing fuel or a generator.

“They are ideal for charging up batteries, making sure your (communications), night vision goggles and computers are powered up. You don’t want a generator on top of a mountain, and you don’t want to have to bring fuel to a generator or haul batteries,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

The transportation of fuel in trouble spots is dangerous and incredibly expensive, costing up to $100 a litre.

“Alternative energy sources are really going to shine in mission scenarios where you don’t want to use a generator because you don’t want the noise or heat signature that goes along with it, or where re-supplying that generator with fuel doesn’t make sense,” said Steven Tucker, a senior engineer at the Natick Soldier Research Design and Engineering Center.

The Army says it had has already deployed some of these technologies around the world for additional evaluation, including  Afghanistan.

“The technology has reached the point where the testing has shown they [solar-powered tents] are proven, ” says  Hammack.

An example of a solar powered tent is the Temper Fly. Measuring approximately 5 metres by 6 metres, the structure is able to generate 800 watts of electricity. A smaller version called the Quadrant can churn out up to 200 watts of power. Other larger structures called Power Shades are capable of generating up to 3 kilowatts of electricity.

The shelters use a special lamination process to combine the flexible solar cells into the textile substrate.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen solar tents – in 2009 we reported on the Orange Solar Tent; designed more for civilian use – but as far as we know; that hasn’t made it past the concept stage.

Photo credit U.S. Army