Microgrids Could be Ideal for Military Bases

According to a report published by The Pew Charitable Trusts in January, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and improve base security and reliability, by installing more microgrids and renewable power systems.

The report noted that the DOD spends approximately $4 billion a year for energy across its 523 installations, which include more than 280,000 buildings on 2 billion square feet of land.

The benefits extend beyond cost savings, though, into strategic reliability.

"Those military bases provide space for training and housing soldiers, and for research and development facilities and support for overseas operations, such as remote piloting of drones, surveillance, and communications—mission-critical functions that are increasingly jeopardized by major power outages, which are growing in number and severity across the United States," states the report.

In fact, according to the report, the U.S. Navy alone experienced more than 900 outages at its installations in 2015.

"This trend is particularly troubling for U.S. military bases, which are almost entirely reliant on an aging, antiquated commercial electric grid for power," the report states. "Bolstering energy security at military bases would help the Defense Department avoid costly and critical interruptions to some of its most important missions."

The primary strategy for maintaining power on military bases during outages is short-term fuel stockpiles that are used to power stand-alone diesel generators. A large base, for example, typically has between 100 and 200 such units. However, according to the report, "That approach presents challenges, because the generators are not interlinked and are oversized, hard to maintain, and reliant on fuel suppliers that may run out during long-term outages."

The report suggests that advanced microgrids, which it defines as "on-site systems that harness and direct energy from various locally-available sources and that can run independently of the grid," could provide the military with more reliable, flexible, and easy-to-maintain backup power.

"A base that replaces its stand-alone generators with a large-scale microgrid, which is cheaper to operate and maintain, can save $8 million to $20 million over the 20-year life of the system," the report states.

In recent years, of course, the military has introduced microgrids to a number of its bases, some of which can support the entire base's energy needs. To promote even further adoption of microgrids, the report suggests that, "the DOD must update its directives on backup power capabilities, some of which have not been revised in over 20 years; clarify that its energy security requirements prioritize reliability and flexibility; and do more to encourage private sector financing of these systems."

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