Transitioning Microgrid Technology to the US Department of Defense through the ESTCP Demonstration Program

Jan. 12, 2021
Ben Lavoie, lead engineer — energy storage, federal solutions at Ameresco, shares findings from three-phase research on advanced energy storage systems and microgrid technology, done in partnership with the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program.

Ben Lavoie, lead engineer — energy storage, federal solutions at Ameresco, shares findings from three-phase research on advanced energy storage systems and microgrid technology in partnership with the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program. 

Ben Lavoie, lead engineer, energy storage, Ameresco

The ESTCP is a program that funds carefully selected demonstration projects to validate emerging technologies that have potential to address a range of environmental issues faced by the Department of Defense (DoD).  It facilitates the deployment of energy and environmental innovations across the DoD by rigorously documenting each demonstration project’s performance and cost parameters and other useful insights in the development process. In doing so, the program enables DoD leadership and individual installations to gain visibility into the benefits afforded by environmental innovations and mitigates concerns relating to technical or programmatic risk that might discourage them from pursuing those innovations in long term contracts. Because transferring innovations at one site to another is more complex than simply replicating the same technology, the ESTCP program aims to provide other DoD sites with the tools and insights to achieve similar successes.

Potential demonstration projects are identified through an annual solicitation in which DoD agencies, non-DoD federal agencies, and non-governmental partners (including the private and academic sectors) are invited to propose projects. Specific topic areas are identified annually which target DoD strategic initiatives to evaluate how innovative technologies can support mission objectives. The ideal innovative technologies and strategies for the program are ones for which a proof-of-concept exists but limited performance data is available. Each year, about 30-40 projects are awarded, and as the projects’ findings are reported in subsequent years, other DoD sites can more readily leverage the same innovations in other settings. ESTCP and its sister program, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), are jointly managed on behalf of the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment by a team based in Alexandria, VA.

ESTCP demonstration at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine

Ameresco was awarded an ESTCP project in 2013 to demonstrate the benefits of a microgrid control system and a battery energy storage system at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) in Kittery, Maine. The site, a critical facility for maintaining the Navy’s fleet of Los Angeles and Virginia Class submarines, had a desire to further harden its continuity of power supply by taking advantage of emerging power systems technologies. Although the shipyard can self-generate power from behind the meter in parallel with importing power from the local utility, its on-site generation capacity may not always be capable of serving the site’s full typical daytime electric load. The PNSY and Ameresco team recognized an opportunity to combine new microgrid controls and battery energy storage technology with existing on-site generation systems to provide enhanced performance of the site’s electric system. Ameresco sought to demonstrate that a microgrid control system utilizing a fast load shed (FLS) strategy paired with batteries could further mitigate the potential for disruptions, but it could do so in a way that was both cost-effective and could provide benefits to the broader bulk power grid as well.

The ESTCP demonstration solution that Ameresco proposed consisted of a microgrid control system with fast load shedding capability and a lithium-ion battery energy storage system. The solution allows the site to seamlessly transition from utility tied operation to independent operation utilizing on-site power generating assets by shedding less critical loads and matching the high-priority loads with the available on-site generation during an outage. The project also demonstrated the ability of energy storage systems to provide unique benefits to a microgrid and generate new value and savings opportunities during normal grid tied operation through reducing an installation’s electric energy bills or participating in utility and energy market programs.

From our point of view at Ameresco, the ESTCP program laid the groundwork for understanding the fundamentals of microgrid technology, proved that it works, and helped shape our approach to serving customers in the federal sector.

As the Principal Investigator for the project, Ameresco’s job was twofold: first, it had to fully demonstrate the benefits of the innovative microgrid control and battery solution at PNSY, and second, it had to document the findings in a way that would communicate to the defense community how the investigated technologies could be repeatable at other sites. The report that Ameresco produced at the project conclusion walks the reader through the entire process in detail, including the team’s thought processes throughout the project’s execution along with detailed cost and performance information. Decision-makers interested in deploying microgrids with fast load shed capability and battery storage at other DoD sites have since been able to use the ESTCP report from PNSY as a valuable guide, thereby avoiding a situation in which they are “reinventing the wheel” when developing similar infrastructure.

Projects like this add to the body of knowledge available on advanced energy technologies like flow batteries. Ameresco looks forward to reporting on the outcome of this investigation and future developments. By cybrain/

The Navy and Ameresco are currently building upon the success of this first Ameresco ESTCP microgrid project by expanding the FLS capability throughout the shipyard and increasing the on-site cogeneration capacity.  This new work is being designed, built, and financed under an ESPC at no up-front cost to the Navy.

Building on microgrid success at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot – Parris Island

In 2016, three years after the PNSY project commenced, Ameresco was able to build on these efforts when it was awarded a $91 million ESPC to upgrade the energy infrastructure at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot – Parris Island (MCRD PI) in Parris Island, SC. Although the facility serves an entirely different purpose from PNSY – training 19,000 Marine recruits annually – the site had a number of key similarities that made it well-suited for innovative applications such as a microgrid and energy storage. Prior to the project with Ameresco, MCRD PI relied on an old steam plant nearing the end of its useful life. The plant was fueled by gas and problematic No. 6 fuel oil backup fuel and periodically required temporary boilers to meet load while permanent equipment was repaired or ultimately decommissioned. Sustaining the plant was costly, added risk to energy supply and distracted the base from its critical mission of training Marine recruits.

The Marine Corps selected Ameresco to develop one of the most comprehensive microgrids at any DoD site to date, consisting of a 3.5 MW combined heat-and-power plant, 3.6 MW of diesel backup generation, 6.7 MW of solar PV, a 4.0/8.1 MWh lithium-ion battery energy storage system, a microgrid control system with fast load shed capability, and site-wide energy efficiency measures. This microgrid enhanced the site’s reliability and resiliency significantly, and the project as a whole yields nearly $7 million in annual energy savings, a 35% reduction in overall energy use, a 25% reduction in water use, and a 75% reduction in utility energy demand. Because the microgrid was executed as part of a comprehensive Energy Savings Performance Contract under which the energy cost savings pay for the project’s up-front capital costs, it was built in a budget-neutral manner for the Marine Corps, enabling the Corps to focus more of its resources on training. For Ameresco, the Parris Island project represented an important milestone in that it was one of the first times we were able to include microgrid solutions and large-scale energy storage in a self-funded, 20+ year energy performance contract.

Seeding the microgrid concept at MCRD PI was the microgrid controller and battery energy storage system at PNSY. The ability to switch to on-site power sources seamlessly and cost-effectively was proven at that site, and the detailed report that Ameresco wrote as Principal Investigator offered a wealth of insights for other military bases considering measures that would provide resiliency and stable power quality. Although every microgrid differs in its site conditions, design constraints, equipment selection, complexity of load management, and available communications options, the PNSY demonstration provided valuable field experience, lessons learned, and best practices to the Ameresco team that benefited the design and implementation of the MCRD PI microgrid system.

Using the ESTCP to Increase Energy Security

From our point of view at Ameresco, the ESTCP program laid the groundwork for understanding the fundamentals of microgrid technology, proved that it works, and helped shape our approach to serving customers in the federal sector. By partnering on the PNSY project years ago, we gained deep insight into the priorities around energy security at DoD military bases, which has helped us refine the solutions we’ve offered to the many other DoD sites we have performed work at since. As energy security has become a top priority for the DoD, nearly all the projects we do with DoD today aim to integrate microgrid and energy storage technology, and we are in a stronger position to serve the DoD.

Our experience with the ESTCP program has shown that it is an effective way for the DoD to demonstrate and validate innovative technologies and multiply their benefits across a broad swath of the DoD’s infrastructure. Alternatively, for technologies that may not yet be ready for commercial deployment, ESTCP provides a low risk, objective process for identifying and informing industry on improvements required before commercial deployment across the DoD is viable. In leveraging the insights gleaned at PNSY, we were able to achieve greater energy security and improved economics at MCRD PI and other DoD sites than would have been possible without the benefit of that initial project. We encourage the DoD to continue to expand on the ESTCP program, and we look forward to supporting the deployment of other innovations at other DoD sites as well.

Ben Lavoie is lead engineer — energy storage, federal solutions, at Ameresco

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