The US Military Is Mission Ready: Why it Will Succeed Building Microgrids

May 29, 2019
The US Army wants to be able to power its bases off grid for at least 14 days should a catastrophe occur. Here’s how military microgrids can accomplish the mission.

This is the latest in a series of articles focusing on ideas that emerged from Microgrid 2019, held in San Diego May 14-16. Here we look at what it takes to develop military microgrids that keep power flowing to bases for at least 14 days during a catastrophe.

When the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar near San Diego moved to use landfill gas to power its islanded microgrid, it became a national prototype for such development. Indeed, it will use landfill gas and solar photovoltaics as well as energy storage to power the whole base and to ensure resiliency.

It’s the latest iteration in this demonstration project. The initial phase sought to pair solar with fossil fuels. And upon completion, it will incorporate a total of five distributed energy resources that include renewable generation and energy storage, all to maintain critical facilities during grid outages and to facilitate higher renewable penetration from landfill gas generators.

“We have leveraged research and development funds, and we have partnered with the National Energy Renewable Laboratory,” says Mick Wasco, installation energy manager at the military base. “There is no way you could do this by yourself.” For others to take similar actions, they would need “to replicate these partnerships and to leverage different funding opportunities.”

His comments came during Microgrid 2019 held in San Diego earlier in May. The panel was called Military Microgrids: The Reliability Mission: How and Why the Military is Prioritizing Distributed Energy Resources.

Military microgrid reduces costs

The microgrid, which is scheduled to be completed this year, is leveraging distributed energy resources that include 1.3 MW of solar photovoltaics, 3.2 MW of converted landfill methane gas, and 6.45 MW of diesel and natural gas generation. Its microgrid control system and operations center enables autonomy of grid operations and distributed energy resources switching when the grid is islanding for resilience.

The base is building the microgrid in a partnership with Schneider Electric.

“We have put in place a microgrid in a military environment that brings value to the community and the installation itself while reducing costs,” says Andy Haun, chief technology officer for Microgrids at Schneider Electric, at the Microgrid Knowledge conference. 

The overall goal is resiliency — to bounce back as soon as possible from a power loss. The base also needs to keep the lights on for at least 14 days in the event of a major catastrophe such as a wildfire. The other objective is to win financing. And that involves building relationships with stakeholders and understanding their goals.

Meeting the Army’s 14-day directive

The army’s directive is to reduce risks and to provide water for two weeks in the event of an outage, says Lisa Laughner, chief executive of Go Electric, at the conference. Her company delivers microgrid controls in an integrated system that includes batteries — a solution that allows military bases to extend the time they can go without power. Battery storage, meanwhile, reduces worry about fuel logistics, or getting diesel or natural gas to a site during extreme weather events.

The financing is there, she adds, noting that the Department of Defense will award small business research grants, as well as basic research and development monies in a rapid innovation fund — if it is a commercial project.

At the same time, developers and operators need to correspond with stakeholders before they begin construction — not only to understand what it is they want to accomplish but to try and discuss “lessons learned” from previous endeavors. Things don’t always go as planned. And companies that study those experiences are better positioned to avoid the same pitfalls.

Team work

Ultimately, it means working with all corporate or government departments: information technology, mission assurance and the financial folks. Operators and developers can learn from those who work inside the organization, and outside of it. They are all part of the solution.

“We will meet with the end user to figure out what the objective is,” notes Nathan Justice, electrical engineering services and systems for Eaton, at the conference. “Then we ask who do we need to partner with. And that depends on the user and what they want. We then create a team. If the technology is there, that will free up some funding. The military has a lot of requirements to meet.”

As far as the Miramar military base goes, it will soon be ready for prime time: Upon completion of the project, redundant sources of power are expected to provide 100% capability – even in the event of power outages – across Miramar’s more than 100 mission critical buildings, including its entire flight line.

“We are mission driven and if a microgrid is needed to achieve a 14 day period, we will do it,” says Wasco, with the Miramar military base. “This is what the Marine Corps does best.”

Read more Microgrid 2019 coverage…

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About the Author

Ken Silverstein

Since the late 1990s, I've covered energy, beginning with the rise and fall of Enron -- first as a magazine writer before becoming a columnist. For more than seven years, I've been a columnist for Forbes while also expanding my coverage to include key environmental issues and emerging technologies such as microgrids. I've also done some global reporting of those same issues that touch the African and Asian regions. My work has appeared in, and by cited by, dozens of publications and broadcasts.

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