Why the military's smart grid battle plan could ignite a victory for all of us


By: SGN Staff


By Liz Enbysk

SGN Managing Editor


There may be disagreement on Capitol Hill about military spending, but there's no doubt that the smart grid and renewable energy are on the radar over at the Pentagon. Read on for a look at what's driving the military's trailblazing smart grid initiatives, what they look like and what they could mean for the rest of us.


Oil is the enemy

Why is the military so gung-ho about microgrids? Why are soldiers in Afghanistan packing portable solar panels? A fascinating opinion piece authored by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall spells it out very clearly. Here are just a couple of points he makes in his article that appeared last month in Politico:


·         The U.S. military is the world’s single-largest industrial consumer of oil, using more oil than 85 percent of all other countries combined. Every $10 increase in the price per barrel of oil costs the Pentagon $1.3 billion.

·         In the theater of war, oil is our greatest vulnerability. More than 3,000 service members have been killed or injured defending fuel and water supply lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Udall points out, "Not only would renewable energy save money and lives in the military, it may be our best hope of bringing these new technologies to the public." And the Colorado Democrat, who has a prime vantage point as a member of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is not alone. He quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "Energy needs to be the first thing we think about, before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane.” Read more:  Oil is biggest military weakness.


Bringing the military's mission home

As Sen. Udall notes, the military is in many respects a trailblazer of technologies that in time find their way to the mainstream.  Think Internet or GPS, for example.

And it's easy to see how some of the technologies the military is adopting could prove useful in non-military applications. For example, with electronics playing more and more of a role in military engagements, soldiers carry a lot of batteries around with them in various sizes and quantities. So along comes the lightweight Soldier Power Manager, alleviating some of that burden with a scavenger port that the Army says consolidates power from AC/DC wall adapters, solar blankets, fuel cells, and other partially used batteries to power or recharge radios, computers and GPS devices.  Similarly, Marines in Afghanistan are lightening their load by replacing batteries in their packs with roll-up solar panels developed by Navy scientists to power their gear.


Microgrids are front and center

Microgrids also have the military's attention as a way for the Department of Defense to make core base operations self-sufficient with both security and efficiency a goal. In some demonstrations it is tying batteries, energy efficiency and renewables all together in a smart microgrid scenario.


Certainly there are a number of civilian or community-based microgrids under way too - but perhaps not with the urgency that is behind the military's microgrid maneuvers. For instance, in recent weeks alone:


·         Fort Bliss in Texas announced it intends to be the first large-scale, net zero military installation and issued an RFI to seek industry assistance in the effort.


·         ZBB Energy Corp. won a Navy contract to provide a 1000kWH energy storage system for use in a microgrid application at the San Nicolas Island Naval Facility off the California coast.


·         The U.S. Army launched a three-month microgrid technologies project in Afghanistan with the aim of significantly lower fossil fuel consumption on the battlefield and identifying the microgrid technologies with the highest potential in an operational environment.


·         Sandia National Laboratory has developed an Energy Surety Microgrid for initial use by the military with hopes of later transferring it to the civilian world.


·         Boeing and Siemens announced a strategic alliance to develop microgrid and other energy-saving technologies for the Defense Department.


On that last point, Boeing and Siemens are just two of the many companies jockeying for a role as the Pentagon moves to reduce energy consumption by a third at military bases by 2020 and to have renewable energy sources account for 25% of energy used by 2025. Obviously there's huge potential for suppliers and integrators that partner with the military. Just one example: Earlier this month the Army announced a new task force focused on large-scale renewable energy projects, estimating the scale of renewable energy production the Army needs in order to provide enhanced energy security could require investment up to $7.1 billion over the next 10 years. 

What's next?

Some promising military-related technologies will be showcased as winners of this year's CTSI Defense Energy Challenge during the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit in Honolulu on Sept. 13. Among them:

  • California Energy & Power Company has developed a powerful, affordable and durable wind energy solution, the Cal-ePower 10 kW vertical-axis wind turbine and distributed wind system.  This system can provide green energy for customers requiring 10 kW to 10 MW of distributed wind power, without spoiling the view, creating noise or disrupting radarâ€"at a reduced cost. It is of great interest to the military because it will not interfere with RADAR systems, will not harm wildlife and has a much smaller footprint/MW than large wind turbines. 

  • Nextek Power Systems is a pioneer in direct current (DC) power networks. The Nextek Direct Coupling® Microgrid delivers superior efficiency, flexibility, and reliability to facilities and on-site renewable power sources.  This unique system architecture lowers overall energy consumption, increases the efficiency of renewable energy and storage while reducing up front and long term costs.

Read about the other clean energy technologies that attracted the attention of the Department of Defense during the Energy Challenge.