Green energy plan at military bases

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British military bases on the front line in Afghanistan could be run on solar and wind energy in future under Ministry of Defence plans.

The move would cut the need for expensive and dangerous convoys to supply diesel for the electricity generators at forward operating bases deep in Taliban territory.

The MoD's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency has invited contractors to put forward ideas for how remote bases could switch to renewable energy sources.

Firms have also been asked to look at everything from introducing more efficient generators to reducing the power used for laundry.

Insurgents have regularly targeted tankers carrying fuel into Afghanistan, and the military seeks to keep diesel resupply convoys to a minimum because they are vulnerable to attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Ray Fielding, of DE&S's programmes and technology group, said: "Alternative power systems must provide a similar level of electrical power with the same degree of robustness and remove the logistics burden of transporting fuel to the base.

"There must be no compromise to the effectiveness of the operations."

He added: "Although more efficient generators offer one possible solution, to minimise regular resupplies of diesel, renewable technologies are of great interest.

"While a single technology may not be the answer it may be possible to combine a number of approaches to supply the power needed."

The programme is being run with the British Antarctic Survey and Canada's Department of National Defence, which are also seeking to reduce the need to supply isolated bases with fuel.

Successful companies will be invited to demonstrate how their equipment works in trials over the summer.

The MoD is currently buying portable solar panels which will be issued to British personnel at smaller bases in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan within the next six months.

The panels - which look like large mats and can be folded up and stored in a bag - are intended to cut the weight of the kit troops carry by reducing the need for heavy batteries.

The US Marines are already testing solar panels at bases in Helmand's deadly Sangin district, which they took over from British forces in September.

At one outpost in Sangin, called Patrol Base Sparks, they have cut the use of diesel from 20 gallons a day to 2.5 gallons a day by harnessing the power of the sun.

US Marines Staff Sergeant David Doty, who is stationed at the patrol base, said in an interview last month: "The system works amazing. By saving fuel for generators, it has cut back on the number of convoys, meaning less opportunity for one of our vehicles to hit an IED."