US Army Targets Energy Resiliency Through Microgrid Projects

army microgrids resiliency
(Photo: Los Alamitos Army Airfield. Credit: California National Guard, Flickr Creative Commons)

The US Army is using clean energy projects to begin targeting resiliency through microgrids, executive director of the US Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives Michael F. McGhee said at the recent Microgrid Global Innovation Forum in Washington, DC.

“We have a host of projects that were set up initially to kickstart the transition to a clean energy economy. But we are trying to convert those projects to be more focused on a direct resiliency contribution for the Army,” McGhee said, according to Microgrid Knowledge’s Elisa Wood.

That means configuring distributed energy projects that were originally envisioned as environmental ones into microgrids, McGhee explained. Under this model, the Army supplies the land and deals directly with energy developers.

“With strong renewable energy goals and a lot of open land for training and maneuvers, the Army is a magnet for energy developers,” Wood wrote. “Army land is not just any land. In the eyes of energy developers, it’s ‘want-it-in-my-backyard’ or WIMBY land, a rare find in an era when even solar panels are considered eyesores in some neighborhoods.”

Last November McGhee gave a presentation about microgrids to the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment. He described an energy security project concept for the Joint Forces Training Base (JFTB) at Los Alamitos in California, where a developer would construct, own, operate, and maintain 16 MW of solar power, energy storage, and microgrid components.

For that conceptual project, the Army would benefit from enhanced energy security through the developer’s “islandable” capability to power critical missions for at least 14 days during a grid emergency, McGhee pointed out. In exchange, the developer would benefit from selling power to customers via the California grid. The project would also help the community by alleviating transmission line congestion in an area likely to be affected by the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025.

Microgrid systems have been on the rise for the military. Last October, Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury announced a partnership with Duke Energy to install a microgrid. And earlier this year, the US Army unveiled a 10-MW solar microgrid-ready project at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

A paper by Michigan Technological University engineering and energy policy experts published last spring concluded that microgrids could help the US military stay operational following an attack on the country’s electricity grid.

“If we put the money into PV-powered microgrids, it would be making us objectively more secure and we get a return on our investment as after the initial investment in PV the military would enjoy free solar electricity for the next 25 years,” co-author Joshua Pearce said.

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