Smart grid and the military: meet the first adopter

Military 'gets it,' has the will and dollars to implement

Phil Carson | Jun 14, 2011

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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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

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