A team from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division received a second patent for their solar panel deployment technology, a product that was created in 2009. U.S. Patent No. 10,804,839, Solar Panel Deployment Method, was issued on Oct. 13, and is a division of U.S. Patent No. 10,024,579, Solar Panel Deployment System, which was awarded in 2018.
This solar panel deployment technology is legally dichotomized into two categories: an apparatus for collecting solar energy (U.S. Patent No. 10,024,579) and a method for collecting solar energy (U.S. Patent No. 10,804,839). While the disclosures are the same, the earlier patent defines claim coverage in terms of apparatus, whereas the later patent defines claim coverage in terms of method.
Responsible for the invention are Eric Shields, head of Carderock’s Battery Certification and Integration Branch, Evan Rule, a power systems engineer in the Expeditionary and Developmental Power and Energy Branch, as well as former Carderock employees Clint Govar, Anthony Suggs and Richard Hardy. Howard Kaiser, associate counsel for intellectual property in Carderock’s Office of Counsel, was the patent attorney for this application process.
Enclosed in the original patent was a solar collection method that was comprised of an apparatus including: two U-bars, two solar panels and a case – a way of making sure the panel did not break upon getting to the field. Meanwhile, the second patent included the batteries and the electronic components – ensuring everything worked properly.
“The solar panels would be worthless without the system,” Rule said.
The original patent, invented in 2009 but not officially awarded until 2018, was created at Carderock for deployment to Afghanistan to mitigate risk and reduce logistical fuel burdens on deployed troops. The original product was utilized in correlation with Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Systems (GREENS), which uses the panels, rechargeable batteries and power electronics to provide anywhere from 300-500 watts of continuous electricity.
“We received direction from the Office of Naval Research to get solar power out into the field for our outposts,” Rule said. “There was an urgent need to get fuel convoys off the road as they were a very big target and responsible for a significant number of casualties at the time.”
The process of formal development to getting the product to the field typically takes anywhere from six to 10 years. However, with this urgent request, the Carderock team was able to have their product to the field within two years.
“The original intent was that you had these combat outposts which hosted anywhere from three to 10 Marines with all of their communications equipment – the capabilities that the infantry Marines needed to stay in touch with the rest of the world,” Rule said. “The vision was to have these solar panels plopped onto the hill tops to power their equipment so they wouldn’t need the fuel convoys.”
During those two years of development, seven prototypes were created and sent to Afghanistan, which was responded to with user feedback on how to enhance the product – something that is over a decade in the making.
“Something that’s really interesting is that we designed the first solar panel deployment method of the GREENS,” Rule said. “While the original solar panel method is no longer used in the current GREENS model, it is pretty neat to be part of the team that designed the first one.”
The product of the second patent, which has been in use for several years before getting awarded, came as some surprise to its inventors.
“When we got word that we had been awarded the second patent, I was in shock,” Rule said. “It had been off my radar for so long that I had forgotten about it.”
The prototype systems for the patents were built at Carderock, but have since been contracted out to a private company.
“For a long time, it was definitely a place to stop during tours on base,” Rule said of the time when they were building the prototypes at Carderock.