UK army's foray into renewables...

Elizabeth Block

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the UK claims to be working towards increasing "climate resilience" and maintaining the operational capacity of the MOD Estate in a “changing climate”.

This article is taken from the May/June issue of Renewable Energy Focus magazine. To register to receive a digital copy click here.

While MOD efforts do not seem to echo the US emphasis on finding alternative sources of energy, at least climate change is recognised as a problem. For example, the MOD says it is concerned about coastal erosion and fire issues at training sites.

And there is “crossover” in terms of UK defence contractors dipping their toes into the renewable space, sometimes independently of military procurement contracts. For example, Rolls Royce acquired Tidal Generation Ltd in 2009 and sold it to Alstom in early 2013. And the UK is also seeing activity by private firms in solar PV for military housing and other purposes. Carillion is one example, with a private public partnership for military accommodation, worth £1.2bn.

In the wind area, Landmarc Support Services is a strategic partner of the Defence Trading Estate. It has installed a wind turbine to provide power at a firing range at Warcop Training Area in Cumbria.

In regard to private sector involvement, renewables have a champion in Nick Cook, CEO of Dynamixx in Britain, a company that claims to be “the world's first energy and environmental/defence and security consultancy”. He believes defence and aerospace companies have the systems integration skills to benefit from renewable energy, environmental and infrastructure markets on a large scale:

“These markets include cities that are looking to become smart, safe and sustainable to national governments wrestling with emissions targets,” he said. “By working with other sectors – for example, IT, construction, healthcare, transportation, clean tech and others – aerospace and defence companies can stimulate innovation and cross-sector solutions to ‘global challenges’ in these areas on a grand scale.”

He added: “It's a bigger market – and a backup to government contracts.”

Referring to the Great Green Fleet, a US Navy biofuels initiative, Cook said that the British military are “greening” their forward operating bases (FOB). One example is FOBEX – a UK army exercise to see how renewables and the smart grid could be brought together to help forward operating bases become self-sustainable. Within FOBEX, Power FOB is looking at fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. Trials have taken place in Kenya and Cyprus, countries chosen as their climate is similar to that of Afghanistan.

Case study: Lockheed Martin – ocean thermal energy in China; fuel cells and solar PV for US military

US aerospace and defence firm Lockheed Martin has recently joined forces with China's Reignwood Group to develop a pilot plant that will use ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to generate electricity. The 10MW project, designed by Lockheed, will be the largest to date to use this technology. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

OTEC uses the natural temperature differential in tropical regions between cooler deep ocean waters and warmer shallow or surface waters to run a heat engine for electricity generation. The technology, Lockheed says, is well-suited to island and coastal communities where energy transportation costs typically make other sources of power very expensive. The firm claims the power can be produced consistently 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, making it baseload and thus an advantage over variable renewable energy sources.

“The benefits to generating power with OTEC are immense, and Lockheed Martin has been leading the way in advancing this technology for decades,” said Dan Heller, vice president of new ventures for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training. “Constructing a sea-based, multi-megawatt pilot OTEC power plant for Reignwood Group is the final step in making it an economic option to meet growing needs for clean, reliable energy.”

Once the pilot plant is operational, the companies plan to use the knowledge gained during its development to develop commercial-scale projects of up to 100MW. The pilot plant will supply power to one of Reignwood's “green” resorts – the company is active in building golf courses and has initiated a Low Carbon Technology Industry Alliance.

And in August 2012, Lockheed Martin secured a $3 million contract with the US Office of Naval Research to design and develop solid oxide fuel cell generator sets as an alternative to traditional battlefield power generation equipment. The company's fuel cell technology will be integrated with solar panels, with the aim of cutting overall fuel usage for tactical electrical generation by at least 50%.

Further information

About: Elizabeth Block is a London-based writer specialising in renewable energy. A native of New York in the US, she has a background as a financial journalist, specialising in institutional investment.

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