Navy's new disaster response van runs on solar, wind power

The Navy's salvage service has developed a command vehicle that uses solar and other renewable energy sources to power its computers and communications equipment while in the field.

Developed by the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV), the van is similar to other command vehicles in that it is equipped with a wideband, very high-frequency radio; a satellite phone; digital high-definition TVs that can interface with computers; and a network interface device that allows the van to receive telephone calls from any nearby cell tower.

What makes the van different is that is uses a photovoltaic solar array and two 1 kilowatt wind generators in conjunction with 16 lithium battery modules to power its systems.

The solar panel array automatically tracks the sun, and power is carefully managed via an advanced battery monitoring and electrical distribution system. These capabilities allow the van to operate independently for long periods of time supporting disaster relief or other recovery operations without relying on its diesel generator to run its equipment.

“If you’ve got good wind and good light, it can easily maintain itself,” said Mike Herb, head of salvage operations for SUPSALV.

The van was built as the result of experiences in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. SUPSALV was conducting disaster response operations on the Gulf Coast, but the devastation was so extensive that there was no easily available fuel for the Navy’s command vans. Instead of focusing on recovery efforts as their primary mission, SUSALV personnel had to make 100- to 150-mile round trips north of the disaster area to purchase fuel for their vans’ generators, Herb said.

Work on the van began in mid-2011. SUPSALV’s existing command vans dated back to the 1980s and 1990s and were in need of replacement. Because there was a need to replace the current inventory, this provided an opportunity to develop the green van, Herb said. The new van had not yet been deployed operationally.


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