Lincad helping to shape the future of solar power for the military
An Interview with Peter Slade, Lincad’s Project Manager
Q. I understand that Lincad has been interested in solar power for some time. What solar power products are you currently manufacturing?
Solar technology has been integrated into the Lincad product range since 2012 when we launched our first Solar Charger. We recognised there was a need to provide flexibility for the soldier in the field by offering a battery charging option when no AC or suitable DC supply was available. Then in 2015, we extended this further, producing the Power Scavenger that can charge batteries from any DC input – whether from solar panels, another battery, or from the DC output on a vehicle.
Q. So do you see solar power as an important technology for the future?
Very much so, and for two very
good reasons – climate change and cost. At every level, whether its governments, companies or individuals, there’s a growing necessity to reduce ourdependence on fossil fuels to minimise the damage we’re doing to the environment through the release of greenhouse gases. And moving towards renewables makes economic sense in the long term. Although capital expenditure costs were considerable in the past, operational expenditure costs for solar power are minimal and, as solar power moves from a niche market to a mainstream energy source, so the capital costs of solar photovoltaics
have reduced significantly. Indeed, the growth of photovoltaics has been growing exponentially over the last two decades. Domestic and commercial solar installations are now a common site and solar farms are becoming more prevalent. However, solar cells still only deliver an efficiency rate of about 15% so there are still potentially huge technical improvements to be made.
Recently, for example, we’ve seen the development of a completely transparent solar cell. Commercial realisation
of this technology could have a major impact on the market as it could be used for windows, screens for electronic devices and a number of other applications. But advances in solar technology need to be matched by advances in energy storage technology, such as batteries, and that’s where our particular interest and expertise lies.
Q. Can you expand on that?
We have been making substantial investments in solar R&D for some years now. But as a specialist in batteries, chargers and power management systems, we have a specific niche role to play within the overall development of the technology. We have previously worked with three other companies – Oxis Energy, Pure Wafer and Solutronic – to develop safe, lightweight and robust solar energy storage systems for the military. Our contribution focussed on
the design of the battery system, with OXIS focusing on the lithium sulphur cell technology, Pure Wafer on the
solar panels, and Solutronic on the inverters.
Q. In terms of the military, what do you see as the bigger picture where solar power is concerned?
For military organisations, solar power offers great potential. Just like any other major organisation, the UK MOD
has greenhouse gas emission targets and solar power can play a major role in meeting those targets. The Defence
Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) is looking to industry, including SMEs, to help reduce energy consumption and
carbon emissions across the MOD estate. It’s the same internationally. The US Department of Defense, for example, has committed to meet 25% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. Across the world, defence organisations are looking to solar power as part of the solution to the problem, and one area in which there has been significant investment is that of wearable solar technology. Incorporating photovoltaic solar cells within a soldier’s uniform, or in their personal kit, could provide those soldiers with a source of energy for recharging batteries,
potentially eliminating the need to carry heavy spares.
Back in 2011, the UK MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) launched the ‘Solar Soldier’ initiative to assess the feasibility of using wearable solar photovoltaic cells and thermoelectric devices to provide soldiers in the field with a ’round-the-clock’ power supply. Lincad was involved in that initiative and we’re continuing to pursue and extend the R&D work that we undertook for that. There are still technological problems to be resolved before the military can take full advantage of the potential of solar power but, along with other companies across the world, we’re working on those. Whilst the benefits are already obvious for longer missions in sunny climates, the technology still needs to improve if those benefits are to be realised for other missions.
Q. Does solar power feature in the broader activity of Lincad?
Whilst the main driver for us has been the end user, providing equipment for the soldier that can ease the burden in the field, we’re also
very conscious of the wider environmental benefits that solar power offers. As a result, we’re in the process of establishing our own
on-site solar panel installation linked to a lithium-ion energy storage system to reduce our operating costs and to
further inform our R&D work.
Q. And finally, do you think that R&D work will continue?
Yes, indeed. Solar power looks set to revolutionise the energy sector over the coming years. With our long-standing reputation for leading edge technical expertise, Lincad is uniquely placed to contribute at the highest level to the development of solar power, particularly in the field of energy storage.