Solar Energy in Afghanistan: Fewer Batteries Equals More Bullets

When Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was running for Congress last year, a group called Conservatives for Congress hammered her with a TV ad because she asked Gen. David Petraeus about the use of solar energy in Afghanistan.

Conservatives for Congress chairman Steve Christy, the former auto dealer who wanted Republican Jesse Kelly in Congress, complained that Giffords' push for alternative energy sources "seems to be a luxury item.”

As I wrote at the time:

Steve Christy, chairman of the Conservatives for Congress Committee, says Giffords demonstrated “a complete disconnect from the War on Terror…. It seemed to highlight and emphasize where we feel the voters of CD8 are regarding her being out of the mainstream of what people in the district are really feeling and thinking. And it also appeared as if she were pandering to the environmentalist groups that pressuring her for their agenda.”

But it wasn’t environmentalists that came to Giffords defense last week: It was veterans who say the Pentagon needs to move to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Among those speaking out: retired Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, the former commander of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, who says that “energy dependence and climate change are not only national security and international security issues, but issues that impact our young men and young women who so proudly serve.”

Seip argues that reducing dependence on oil and becoming more energy efficient allows the military “in the long run, to reduce the number of convoys that have to transit a very hostile and dangerous part of the world there, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Less convoys mean less soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that have to protect those convoys, which means less opportunities for our enemies to attack our young men and women.”

Well, in today's Wall Street Journal—hardly a bastion of left-wing environuts—there's a story about how solar energy is making life better for the troops:

A company of U.S. Marines recently conducted a remarkable three-week patrol through southern Afghanistan, replacing hundreds of pounds of spare batteries in their packs with roll-up solar panels the size of placemats to power their battle gear.

By allowing the troops to recharge their radios, GPS devices and other equipment, the green technology freed the Marines of India Company from constant resupply by road and air. And by carrying fewer batteries, they carried more bullets.

The Marine Corps is addressing a paradox confronting military planners: Modern U.S. forces are more lethal than any in history, but they also gobble up more energy. That lengthens vulnerable supply lines and overloads soldiers and Marines in the field.

India Company, a component of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, is the first combat unit to be equipped with a new package of portable, front-line solar gear developed by Navy scientists. It's a boots-on-the-ground example of the Marine Corps' new blueprint for energy use. The Corps wants to cut per-Marine fuel use in half by 2025.