Army Deploys Microgrids in Afghanistan for ‘Smart’ Battlefield Power

July 19th, 2011 - by admin & Intelligent Utility Daily – 2011-07-19 01:01:04


The US Army’s official website featured the following article about the use of microgrid technologies in Afghanistan, “as part of a groundbreaking project that could significantly lower fossil fuel consumption on the battlefield.” Since we’re paying for the military to become energy self-reliant, why isn’t the civilian population entitled to the same thing? The military “gets it,” all right. They get OUR taxpayer dollars to implement microgrids in the battlefield. This technology could and should be widely distributed throughout the US (civilian) landscape. We need to demand that microgrids be made affordable and accessible to the civilian population — not just on a few college campuses.
— Sandy LeonVest / Solar Times

Army Deploys Microgrids in Afghanistan for ‘Smart’ Battlefield Power
Claire Heininger Schwerin, PEO C3T /

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 28, 2011) — The US Army, led by the Project Manager for Mobile Electric Power, or PM MEP, is installing microgrid technologies in Afghanistan as part of a groundbreaking project that could significantly lower fossil fuel consumption on the battlefield.

The effort, which kicked off at a 2,400-man Force Provider complex in June, is the first attempt by the Department of Defense to evaluate microgrid technologies in an operational environment.

A microgrid consists of “smart” generators that link with one another to intelligently manage the power supply and operate at peak efficiency. Microgrids also enable the use of alternative energy sources and energy storage.

“We know this technology can save fuel and maintenance time for our deployed forces,” said Brig. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical, or PEO C3T, the Army organization overseeing the initiative. “Through this project, we can obtain reliable data on these benefits — and lay the groundwork for successful use of microgrids in theater.”

Among the goals of the three-month experiment are to collect data on fuel and maintenance savings, identify the microgrid technologies with the highest potential for military use, familiarize Soldiers with the equipment’s functions and obtain a baseline cost analysis to support future installations. The Army Materiel Systems Analysis Agency, or AMSAA, will take the lead in gathering system and cost data.

Reducing demand for energy on the battlefield is viewed as a key military challenge by the DoD, which recently released its first-ever Operational Energy Strategy. The strategy will increase the energy efficiency of operations; limit the risks troops face as they use, transport and store energy; and minimize the amount of defense dollars spent consuming energy, officials said.

“The department will therefore take steps to improve the efficiency of our energy use, both through technological innovation and nonmateriel changes,” said Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, in unveiling the strategy. “This will range from more efficient engines on aircraft, ships and vehicles to lighter materials, to concepts of operation that conserve fuel. An important first step will be collecting better data and analysis on our actual energy use.”

With dozens of initiatives already underway for different operational scenarios, the microgrid project targets a “gray area” that has not yet been addressed: an expeditionary camp that quickly grows in size and power consumption, officials said.

“They kept adding module after module, and they ended up with 96 separate generator sets,” said Chris Bolton, lead engineer for PM MEP and one of the architects of the project. “The intent was to take a lot of the commercially available technology and state-of-the-art microgrid systems and apply it to that situation.”

A 1-megawatt, or MW, microgrid will replace 22 of the complex’s generator sets with just four larger sets, simplifying maintenance as well as cutting fuel consumption, Bolton said. Another 180-kilowatt, or kW, microgrid configuration will not replace any of the remaining 74 generators, but will allow up to six of them to communicate and turn on and off in response to demand.

A key benefit of the smaller system — which is part of the Army’s Hybrid Intelligent Power, referred to as HI Power, research and development program — is modularity and scalability to different quantities of generators as a camp expands.

“As companies come in, or battalions and then brigades come in, this will demonstrate a way to hook all those systems up and make them more efficient as things grow,” Bolton said. “This is an opportunity to advance the HI Power program and the smaller tactical side, which may be used for a command post, expeditionary camps, or things in between like hospital complexes and Force Provider complexes.”

While the microgrids are potentially capable of supporting tactical communications equipment, they will not power any mission-critical command and control systems during the three-month testing phase, Bolton said.

“It’s (supporting) kitchens, laundries, latrines and sleeping tents,” he said. “So if we do have power issues, we’re not shutting down radars or radios or anything like that.”

To prove its readiness for a harsh Afghan summer, the 1 MW microgrid went through seven training rotations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. in recent months. For more than 2,500 hours, it functioned reliably in environments ranging from 35 degrees to 117 degrees Fahrenheit, enduring thick dust and severe windstorms.

Along with the 1 MW and 180 kW microgrid, the Army is simultaneously evaluating several HI Power technologies that are still in the developmental stage but could have major implications for tactical use.

One initiative could prevent blackouts through a combination of energy storage mechanisms and intelligent controls, said Chris Wildmann, HI Power lead for the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, or RDECOM’s, communications-electronics center, or CERDEC. A grid with these features could anticipate an overload and better manage its environmental control units, which provide temperature regulation for Soldiers and systems but are a major consumer of fuel.

“If the temperature gets too high and the air conditioner needs to come on, it would actually put in a request to the controller to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to come on. I need power. Is power available?'” Wildmann said. “And the controller would either say, ‘No, don’t come on yet,’ or it would turn on another generator set.”

In addition to increased reliability, the intelligent controls will also make future grids easier to set up than today’s power generation layouts, Wildmann said.

“They’re being designed so that a Soldier can just hook them up any way and plug things in and not have to worry about doing prior analysis of how the power grid should be laid out or what load should be placed where,” he said. “The generators automatically talk to each other, recognize each other and can control each other without Soldier intervention.”

Army researchers are also working on universal power converter boxes that would enable interoperability between power sources of all types — a key concern in deployed environments, where troops often encounter a mix of military and commercial generators, utility power and renewable energy sources.

These capabilities await further testing and could be available for fielding by fiscal year 2013, Wildmann said. However, the microgrids now functioning in Afghanistan will provide a crucial baseline for “smart” power on the battlefield, officials said.

“The Afghanistan Microgrid Project is a key step toward reducing fossil fuel consumption in Afghanistan and for future operations,” Price said.

Smart Grid and the Military:
Meet the First Adopter

Phil Carson / Intelligent Utility Daily

(June 14, 2011) — The nation’s armed forces all face vulnerabilities and hurdles to achieve their respective missions, whether in the field or at home. Power and energy figure prominently in those vulnerabilities and hurdles, just as they do in the solutions.

In the field, for instance, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have repeatedly shown that fuel trucks traveling vulnerable supply lines to reach forward positions are prone to attack, resulting in casualties and tactical setbacks. Likewise, the individual soldier in combat relies on communications gear that needs a lightweight, independent source of power.

At home, it has become clear that one of the greatest vulnerabilities at military bases is their supply of power. The resulting embrace of microgrids and related technologies, however, was not a straight line.

First, in 1998, the US Department of Defense (DoD) ordered the military to “get DoD out of the business of owning … and operating utility systems.” Within seven years — and the impact of 9/11 and two wars — a US Navy report declassified last year found that base security and autonomy required the exact opposite approach. See my column on this issue, “Military Microgrids: A Journey.”

Little wonder then, that despite its size and bureaucracy, the nation’s various armed forces “get” the advantages of autonomy and independence from external power sources through microgrids, distributed generation and other technologies that fall under the catch-all “smart grid” moniker. The drivers, in order of importance, are protecting the lives of our young men and women in the field, accomplishing our military objectives and maintaining readiness at both forward bases and in the homeland. In short: national security.

The obvious upshot is a political question: If the military services “get it,” why are the politicians who claim to support the military seeking an end to one of our premier national labs that closely partner with our military? (See “Rep. Lamborn Backs Bid to Unplug National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden.”) You can’t have the feel-good headline that our armed services “get” smart grid without asking that uncomfortable question and pondering its wholly inadequate answer.

Nonetheless, you’ll hear more about the military as a major first adopter of smart grid technology wherever you go, whether it’s at the KEMA fourth annual leadership conference last week, in yesterday’s announcement of a new report on the military’s use of smart grid-related technology or a visit to a base where these technologies are being applied.

Here are a few points from the aforementioned sources, as well as a number of prominent articles that have appeared in the past year or so, including several in Intelligent Utility Daily.

Tim Noonan, vice president of Boeing Energy, and a former captain in the US Marine Corps, told last week’s KEMA audience that the DoD should be considered a premier early adopter of smart grid technology because its branches provide scale and a test bed.

“The Department of Defense is emerging as a leader due to its mission-critical needs, while the [civilian] industry is hamstrung by fragmented regulatory structures and misaligned incentives,” Noonan said. “DoD programs are developing through known acquisition frameworks. And the DoD has every problem that the outside world does.”

That has led DoD to intense interest in microgrids, cyber security, energy storage and energy efficiency, Noonan pointed out. “The DoD is uniquely positioned to drive standards, technology adoption and information security,” Noonan added.

A worthwhile assessment of the DoD’s progress may be found in “The Military Smart Grid: Leader or Laggard?”

Three quotes from the introduction to Pike Research’s new report “Renewable Energy for Military Applications” easily could have tumbled next from Noonan’s lips.

“Increased access to clean and reliable energy has become a leading priority for the US Department of Defense and the military arena in general, both as a means of reducing dependence on foreign oil [and for] increasing the efficiency and performance of all aspects of operations [for] base and facility operations, transport and portable soldier power.

“[The DoD forms] the single largest consumer of energy in the world — more than any other public or private entity and greater than more than 100 other nations.

“Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies, in many cases, holds the potential to bridge the ‘valley of death’ that lies between research and development and full commercialization of these technologies.”

And here are a number of worthy articles, including a couple by this editor:
“The Military ‘Gets’ Smart Grid” also contains a link to “Save Energy, Save Our Troops,” by a retired Army brigadier general.

My recent piece on the microgrid run by the University of California San Diego clearly demonstrates that microgrids — whether on military bases or university campuses — actually support utility operations, particularly in emergencies. See “The Future Grid: Seamless Ebb and Flow of Supply and Demand” or “Microgrids: Means for Grid Secession Or a Utility’s Best Friend?”

Phil Carson is the Editor-in-chief of Intelligent Utility Daily

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