Pentagon Leads Development of Microgrids

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In the past, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has played a remarkably consistent role in commercializing new technologies that provide tremendous social benefits within the larger civilian realm. The Internet, created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1969, is perhaps the best-known DOD contribution to consumer markets. However, there are a plethora of examples of DOD innovations with widespread commercial appeal and applications. Aircraft technology is another great example. World War I greatly accelerated the production of aircraft, but without the DOD (and the U.S. Postal Service), the domestic aircraft industry would have collapsed shortly thereafter.

As awareness about the electrical grid’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks has increased in the last decade, the U.S. military has become one of the strongest proponents of microgrids. Microgrids offer the ultimate secure power supply for fixed-base military operations. Many Army, Navy, Air Force, and other related bases and offices already have vintage microgrids in place. What is new is that these facilities are looking to envelop entire bases with microgrids and to integrate renewable distributed energy generation (RDEG) on site. These resources, when capable of safe islanding from the surrounding grid, offer the ultimate security since fuel never runs out with solar or wind resources.

In our new report, Military Microgrids, Pike Research has identified roughly two dozen military facilities in the United States that are currently engaged in smart microgrid implementations. The opportunity to help develop these microgrids has attracted a number of powerful technology companies, including Lockheed Martin, General Electric (GE), Honeywell, Boeing, and Eaton. Yet the key to the success of these microgrids is often smaller, innovative firms, such as Encorp, Viridity Energy, and ZBB Energy.

While the size of this market is modest today, it is about to explode, with other military agencies in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and France likely to jump in with their own microgrid programs and initiatives.

An even more compelling case can be made for “mobile microgrids,” although these combat mission networks will be extremely small. Recent proposed pull-outs of troops from Afghanistan may take away some of the urgency in rushing deployments to reduce high casualty rates linked to provisions of fossil fuels. Yet “mobile microgrids,” featuring technologies such as solar blankets that can fit into a soldier’s backpack, make them a cutting edge answer to renewable energy networking challenges.

Much smaller in scale than U.S. stationary microgrids, mobile microgrids can be deployed in a day. The transient nature of these systems makes them extremely difficult to forecast. Definitional issues also play a role; many mobile power systems may or may not qualify as true “microgrids,” as there is large grey area distinguishing solar PV or small wind/diesel hybrids from a bona fide microgrid. Total capacity in the average scenario is estimated at a mere 20 MW by 2017. However, these systems will multiply quickly and significantly, especially if the DOD engages in additional missions in the highly volatile Middle East. FOBs on islands not engaged in direct combat also represent promising near-term markets. The forecasting of this segment is remarkably problematic, nevertheless, given the unpredictability of both political forces and terrorist attacks.

Article by Peter Asmus, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.