Mount Pleasant woman to be feted at White House

Rebecca Ufkes of Mount Pleasant will be recognized Thursday at The White House for helping the country rise to the challenges of the 21st century.

Wade Spees // The Post and Courier

Rebecca Ufkes (center) is president of UEC Electronics in Hanahan, whose employees are assembling a new and innovative electric power system for front-line troops in Afghanistan. Ufkes will be honored at the White House on Thursday for her company’s product.

Hanahan -- A new electric power system for front-line troops in Afghanistan -- made here by UEC Electronics -- will lower energy costs and save lives, a company executive said Tuesday.

GREENS is a 300-watt continuous power system that combines solar panels and batteries with a control system creating direct current power for laptops, battery charging, tent lights and tactical radios.

The system lessens the need to haul diesel fuel into areas where snipers and improvised explosive devices are serious risks.

Company President Rebecca Ufkes is about to receive a high-profile pat on the back for innovation.

Ufkes, of Mount Pleasant, will be honored Thursday at the White House at an event that brings together Americans helping to create high-quality jobs in the United States.

The Marine Corps has contracted for the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Networks (GREENS) system.

"Current orders that are in production exceed $10 million," said Nancy Straight, UEC business development manager.

The firm has ramped up production to provide 270 of the $35,000 power systems by the end of March. "They anticipate that requests for the units will increase," Ufkes said.

An order for another 5,000 of the units to be delivered over five years is expected, Straight said.

Because of her accomplishments, Ufkes will be honored as a "Champion of Change," an initiative that profiles Americans helping the country rise to the challenges of the 21st century.

"These Champions of Change are doing extraordinary things in their communities working to out- innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world," according to a press statement.

Ufkes and representatives of other innovative firms will meet with U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, U.S. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and

Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley.

Ufkes will discuss her efforts and identify ways the federal government might be able to help her company expand.

UEC, an electronics engineering and manufacturing firm on Howard Street in Hanahan, has grown from 10 employees in 1998 to 130 workers and counting, with openings for 37 more positions.

The GREENS system consists of an "intelligent" power distribution unit weighing 45 pounds that manages all power input and output with a minimum of human guidance. Energy is stored on four high-density batteries that weigh 34 pounds each and connect to up to four solar panel arrays made by an Ohio firm.

If solar energy runs low, the batteries kick in or, if necessary, the system runs on a diesel generator. But GREENS is designed to minimize generator use in a hostile environment.

"Trying to resupply generators is really a nightmare when there is no road," Straight said.

Another advantage of GREENS is that it is quiet compared with noise kicked out by a generator, she said.

Last winter, the locally developed GREENS system was among renewable energy supply systems tested in Afghanistan as part of a new strategy to reduce risk to Marines and save money.

Two patrol bases were operated entirely on renewable energy, the Marine Corps said.