Pentagon Looks to Smart Grids for Battlefield Energy
Pentagon Looks to Smart Grids for Battlefield Energy
By Cheryl Pellerin,
American Forces Press Service.
Washington D.C. -- (AFPS) October 20, 2011 – The Defense Department is looking to technologies
that move electricity generation and distribution into the 21st century to
increase the battlefield capability of warfighters, the assistant secretary of
defense for operational energy plans and programs said today.
Sharon E. Burke, addressed an audience at the Military Smart Grids and
Microgrids Conference in Arlington, Va.
A smart grid is an electrical grid whose capabilities are boosted by computer
technology to monitor and regulate the energy that utilities generate and
distribute to consumers. When it becomes fully functional over the next several
years, the automated grid will be able to communicate with consumers, remotely
sense and fix problems on its own network, and save users money by integrating
power from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy sources.
Around the United States, teams of utility companies, universities, national
laboratories, state regulators and private companies are developing and
demonstrating the key technologies that eventually will make up the new version
of the nation’s aging electric power infrastructure.
Microgrids and minigrids are smaller and less-automated versions of smart-grid
technology. They interconnect small, modular electricity-generation sources to
low-voltage distribution systems, and some can be powered by a combination of
petroleum-fueled generators, solar, wind and other sources.
“When you consider that we move about 50 million gallons of fuel every month
right now in Afghanistan, much of which is for power generation, you begin to
understand the huge financial cost of this fuel,” Burke said. Among other things,
she noted, the fuel powers more than 15,000 generators in Afghanistan alone.
“That’s how we power our mission,” the assistant secretary said. “That’s the
electricity our troops need to do their jobs.”
The efficiencies and capabilities associated with better combat power
generation, she added, offer a range of positive outcomes that include less need
for fuel, reduced noise and heat signatures, less maintenance, and a lighter
The Defense Department, she added, has begun to install and evaluate
microgrids and minigrids for use on the battlefield and in domestic
“Just two weeks ago, the Army Corps of Engineers announced $108 million in
projects to centralize power generation, or so-called ‘minigridding,’ at bases
throughout Afghanistan,” Burke said.
“These projects will generate and distribute power efficiently,” she added,
“and that’s expected to take millions of gallons of fuel and thousands of fuel
trucks off the road on an annual basis.”
The project will provide capability for the warfighter and save the Defense
Department money, the assistant secretary said. “I believe their estimates are
that we will see a return on that investment well within a year,” she added.
This summer, the Army deployed a 1-megawatt microgrid, or tactical microgrid,
at Camp Sabalu-Harrison in Parwan, Afghanistan. Before the installation, the
microgrid was tested for 3,000 hours by soldiers at the National Training Center
at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert.
Despite some initial challenges in Afghanistan, the system has been running
for more than two months, Burke said, “and the initial observations are that
fuel use at that location is down by about 16 percent.”
The microgrid has increased operational hours, reduced generator wear and
tear and can integrate solar power into the grid.
“The data we’re collecting on that microgrid is really significant, and the
Army’s invested a good deal of time and effort to making sure that they’re
monitoring the system to see what benefits it will actually bring,” she added.
“That’s what it comes back to for us. When you’re talking about a forward-deployed
tactical environment, we must see a return on capability, first and foremost.”
The Defense Department also is interested in the capability that microgrids
and smart grids can offer at U.S. installations, particularly those that
directly support military operations, Burke said. “Our installations are 99
percent dependent on the civilian grid, so what happens to the civilian grid
happens to us,” she noted.
Although all the installations have significant backup generation capacity,
Burke said, “the loss of electric power can place these critical operational
missions and the homeland defense mission at a high risk of disruption.”
To address the challenge, the department has installed and planned a number
of microgrids at DOD installations, an effort led by Dorothy Robyn, deputy
undersecretary of defense for installations and environment.
“We’re undertaking a number of different research, development, test and
evaluation efforts in this area at domestic installations, Burke said, “and
we’re very interested to see what [the lessons we’re learning] can tell us about
how this technology can help us.”
Smart grid and microgrid technology eventually will help to strengthen the
department’s resilience to energy price changes, the assistant secretary said.
“Better energy performance will translate to lower sustainment costs,” she
added, “and that’s not a theory.”
It’s important for the department to leverage its projects and commercial
projects that already are under way in a consistent approach that incorporates
common standards, Burke said.
“If we have different services and different offices developing different
smart grids or microgrids, the lack of interoperability for us would be a
serious problem,” she added.
“Ultimately, this move to such technologies addresses the need for mission
assurance and also our larger charge to reduce our energy use,” the assistant
“We want to be able to manage those critical loads and we want to use less
Sharon E. Burke
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