Microgrids: The next logical step for the military

By Stuart McCafferty

For the past several years the military has been installing renewable energy assets, primarily solar, to reduce its dependency on traditional generation sources. Federal mandates have accelerated the pace that DoD installations have added solar and wind plants in a race to be compliant. The Energy Initiative Task Force (EITF) is the Army’s responsible organization for identifying, prioritizing, and coordinating large-scale renewable energy of 10 MW and greater. The Civil Engineering Center leads the renewable energy program for the Air Force, performing similar roles to the Army’s EITF. The Navy has established Task Force Energy which is responsible for the overall energy strategy both onshore and at sea, and is supported by the tactical Navy Energy Coordination Office (NECO) responsible for implementing the strategy. Bottom line, there’s a lot going on and the US military is taking energy very seriously.

Unless you have been Rip Van Winkle for the past 3 years, you couldn’t have missed all the budgeting issues with sequestration, budget reductions, and partisan Congressional indecision. The military has had to get pretty creative in how it funds these “non-mission-critical” projects. In fact, the President’s 2014 Research and Development budget proposed a $4.6B budget decrease from 2012 and only $2.1B shared across numerous “priorities,” only one of which is “more efficient energy.” The DoD has effectively been given an “unfunded mandate” and is rapidly mastering its renewable energy programs. Each of the above-mentioned DoD energy centers of excellence have become truly expert in identifying, prioritizing, planning, and, in particular, “using other people’s money” to develop renewable energy projects on military installations. They are learning lessons, collaborating with each another, talking and listening to industry, establishing common processes, and “quick-timing it” towards the DoD’s mandate of 25% renewable energy usage by 2025.

Now that that is all settled, take cover for incoming! Flying in over the horizon like an A-10 Warthog are the new buzzwords – “Net Zero” and “Energy Surety”. Net Zero (or Netzero if you prefer) is the ability to produce as much energy as you use over a one year period. So a Net Zero Energy military installation is pretty self-explanatory. Energy Surety means that the power system is resilient, resistive, and reactive to ensure “the mission” can be maintained during power loss or power quality events.

Both of those subjects deserve another couple of articles in themselves, but each will have profound implications for energy-focused DoD organizations. Net Zero and Energy Surety cannot be achieved by simply installing renewable energy assets. Renewables MIGHT be part of the solution, but now we are talking about “systems of systems” – command and control, storage, traditional backup generation, energy conservation, renewable energy, grid-connected vs islanded, market participation, etc., etc. Now we are talking about Microgrids or (remember you heard it here first) MilGrids.

MilGrid Conceptual Architecture Example (courtesy Sandia National Laboratories)
MilGrid Conceptual Architecture Example (courtesy Sandia National Laboratories)
The military’s energy innovation organizations will be right in the center of this change and will need to continue to evolve their processes to address the evolving paradigm. In fact, it is already happening as the various services begin to dip their toes in the water. A great example of the military’s sortie into MilGrid implementations is the USMC Miramar Air Station just north of San Diego. With Energy Surety, security, and mission sustainment as the primary goals, the Marines have tapped into the Miramar Landfill and are using methane gas, solar panels, and other generation resources to power a portion of the base. With help from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Miramar MilGrid is a work in progress and will yield lessons-learned and processes that will help all the service branches get smarter and achieve more efficient and structured approaches to future MilGrid development.

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