Microgrids as the Next Duct Tape: The Army’s Latest Projects

In its quest to improve national security, the US military often inadvertently comes up with innovations that benefit us every day. The military gets credit for microwaves, GPS, and duct tape, to name a few. It looks like future historians might add microgrids to the list.

Thunderbirds stationed at Nellis AFB. Courtesy of Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock.com

To be clear, the US military did not invent microgrids. Thomas Edison did. But the military is driving the growth of microgrids — and helping the concept achieve scale — as it pursues a mission to improve the energy resilience of its facilities. The military, for example, has set a goal of equipping all of its bases with microgrids by 2035.

California, Maryland and Nevada are home to three recent military microgrid deals.

Los Alamitos

In California, the Army announced last week that it had signed a 30-year lease with Bright Canyon Energy (BCE) for a microgrid at Joint Forces Training Base-Los Alamitos (JFTB-LA), which will is located approximately 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Bright Canyon Energy, a subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital, develops, builds, acquires, owns and operates energy infrastructure.

Under the agreement, BCE will own and operate the Los Alamitos project, which will include 26 MW of solar PV, 20 MW/40 MWh of battery energy storage and 3 MW of standby generators.

Designed to power the 100-acre base for at least 14 days, the microgrid is crucial as Los Alamitos is the primary emergency management center for the California National Guard in Southern California, according to the garrison commander. JFTB, Lt. Col. Manju Vig.

“The Guard’s ability to execute this critical mission depends on our access to the onsite renewable energy generation that this project provides us to support large-scale emergency response operations,” Vig said.

Los Alamitos also sees microgrid as a game that will help both the base and the surrounding community. The microgrid will supply the base with reliable power when the grid is down. When the network is operating normally, it will sell power and capacity to local utility San Diego Gas & Electric.

Learn more about the U.S. military’s microgrid strategy at Microgrid 2022: Microgrids as Climate Heroes.

“When we increase energy resiliency while powering the local grid, it’s a win-win on all counts,” said Rachel Jacobson, Army Assistant Secretary for Facilities, Energy, and Environment.

Fort Detrick

Fort Detrick Army Garrison in Frederick, Maryland is adding a 6 MW/6 MWh battery energy storage system to its 18.6 MW DC solar power facility, making the “microgrid-ready” project, according to Massachusetts-based energy developer Ameresco. Ameresco is working on the project with Virginia-based DLA Energy. Both companies are heavily involved in military energy infrastructure upgrades and services.

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The term “microgrid ready” is often used to describe a project built in stages and designed to eventually become a full microgrid.

Fort Detrick expects the project to save it $125,000 a year in utility costs; it will earn revenue by participating in demand response and frequency regulation programs.

Ameresco’s relationship with Fort Detrick dates back to 2015, when it was awarded a 26-year renewable energy supply contract and site lease to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the solar project. The solar field has 59,994 solar panels, nine central inverters and transformers, medium voltage overhead lines and underground electrical distribution. It serves approximately 12% of Fort Detrick’s annual electrical load needs.

“We commend the Army for taking another step to improve its energy infrastructure with battery energy storage technologies at Fort Detrick,” said Nicole Bulgarino, executive vice president of Ameresco. “This facility connects renewable energy generation from existing solar panels to a system that will enable the base to be micro-grid ready, ultimately creating a more resilient base ready for future energy.”

The project is expected to be completed in early 2023.

Nellis AFB

The third agreement brings together Yotta Energy, an energy storage company that focuses on the commercial and industrial market, and Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) in Las Vegas, Nevada. The US Department of Defense Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) awarded Yotta $1.97 million for a solar and storage microgrid at the base.

“Yotta Energy is a great candidate for this [ESTCP] program because of the distributed and flexible solution the technology offers for different use cases on military installations, said Timothy Tetreault, ESTCP project manager. “We are excited to implement this technology at Nellis Air Force Base as we strive to future-proof our military with resilient and long-lasting solutions.”

To learn more about US military microgrids, check out Microgrid Knowledge’s channel on the subject.

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