Green Tech Hummers, Anyone?

December 21, 2010
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Green technologies like thin-film CIGS panels are making their way from the battlefield to rooftops. These are Dow's Powerhouse Solar BIPV roofing shingles.

More proof that the going green and energy efficient is inevitable and happening now: New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman reports that the U.S. Armed Forces are going green in big ways.

How green? How about an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and biofuel, tested at Mach 1.7. How about the USS Makin Island amphibious assault ship with a hybrid gas turbine/electric motor that save $2 million on its maiden voyage? Or thin-film solar chargers being used by troops to cut down on dangerous fuel transports?

Friedman cites “a study from 2007 data that found that the U.S. military loses one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan.”

This backed up by thin-film solar manufacturers such as Global Solar, which is rushing to manufacture rubberized sheets of thin-film using a technology called CIGS (copper, indium, gallium and selenide).

Most thin-film solar to date have used amorphous silicon, which is not as efficient as other solar technologies. Presently, the crystalline silicon cells used in most solar panels are the most efficient, with ratings of about 15 percent to 18 percent. Global Solar’s CIGS, according to vice president of marketing and business development Jean-Noel Poirier, have achieved efficiencies of 12.6 percent and aims to be at 14 percent in a couple of years. CIGS have been lab tested at more than 20 percent efficiencies.

From the Battlefield to the Roof

These thin films aren’t just for warriors. They can also be for the weekend warriors of home improvement. In mid-2011 Dow Chemical will introduce its Powerhouse Solar roofing shingles, with the solar panels provided by Global Solar. The flexible CIGS panels are built right into asphalt shingles. Dow won’t release specs yet, but it says the shingles can be walked on and nailed to a roof just like ordinary shingles. These and other BIPV (built-in photovoltaics) could soon change the face of solar for the home market. Global Solar is also rushing headlong into the commercial building market, with a product it says can be unrolled and glued to a flat roof, eliminating concerns about putting holes in the roof or the weight on conventional glass-encased panels collapsing a roof.

And we will see serious competition from other CIGS manufacturers. CIGS has been termed a disruptive technology, because its lower cost of production holds the promise of delivering lower costs to consumers and higher margins for manufacturers. In other words, it looks like a game-changer.

LED Hummers

Solar, biofuels and hybrid engines aren’t the only green technologies being employed by the U.S. military. The Times’ Friedman also reports “the Marines now have a ‘green’ forward operating base set up in Helmand Province in Afghanistan that is testing in the field everything from LED lights in tents to solar canopies to power refrigerators and equipment — to see just how efficiently one remote base can get by without fossil fuel.”

That’s a great idea. And the idea for you: This is a way to pitch energy efficiency in homes and business as the patriotic thing to do. Solar, biofuel, LEDs and more are the Hummers of the energy efficiency era. They are the cool stuff that the military uses. As retired Gen. Colin Powell, who was the keynote speaker at the recent Greenbuild Expo, said to attendees there, “You are playing a major role in national security policy—and helping the world to use less energy.”

And by using less energy, both in vehicles and in homes and businesses, we are helping to reduce this country’s dangerous addiction to oil and the conflicts that occur around it.

Powell, by the way, says he started greening U.S. military operations back when he headed up all U.S. military operations. If the military is doing it—shouldn’t we?

Oh, and as Friedman concludes in his column: “The Navy [plans] to use alternative energy sources to provide 50 percent of the energy for all its war-fighting ships, planes, vehicles and shore installations by 2020.

Get ready for big changes in attitudes about alternative energy and going green. This is just a precursor.

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