As the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) aims to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, the Marine Corps, one of the most mobile and tactical branches of the military, is already using portable solar panels to power lights, radios and computers in Afghanistan. Now, the Marine Corps has announced that a new self-contained solar power system that fits into a backpack could soon help save lives in combat zones.

The Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy System (SPACES), developed by Iris Technology, consists of several foldable solar panels, a small converter and various cables and adapters for equipment. The “StarPower” module weighs only 2.6 pounds and has a footprint of 8 by 8 by 1.6 inches – no bigger than the average video game console. According to the Iris website, the plug-and-play kit comes in a hard, waterproof case, has no user controls and can be set up in under a minute.

image via Iris Technology

The Corps hopes that the SPACES unit could limit troops’ exposure to enemy attacks in remote combat zones by reducing the number of resupply missions required to secure fuel for generators. According to Maj. Carlos Barela, director of the Infantry Officer Course out of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the rugged, flexible solar modules stood up well to the harsh Marine lifestyle. However, at three to four hours to charge a single battery, SPACES takes too long for Marines on the move. Also, rotating the unit to track the sun over the course of the day and keeping it completely clear of sand are tedious tasks in the desert.

But, the Marines left the combat training center with high hopes for the technology. Iris said it has also teamed up with contractor HDT Engineered Technologies on development of its Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network (GREEN) program, which expands SPACES technology to power entire base camps.

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