Microgrid Means Mega Advantages

May 31, 2013
By Rita Boland

Fort Bliss, Texas, has installed an unusual mircogrid to help power a dining facility on base, introducing a new approach to the U.S. Army’s efforts to find alternatives to traditional power. The technology is intelligent, optimizing energy usage.

This decision-making microgrid ties into normal utility power, differentiating it from many of the expeditionary microgrid experiments underway across the military. The system also connects to an emergency power generator and solar energy collectors located at the dining hall. Dennis Wike, the Fort Bliss Directorate of Public Works, Operation and Maintenance Division resource efficiency manager, explains that according to all the research done by project personnel, this is the only military microgrid to tie into a regular electric system and have integrated renewable resources and energy storage, which takes the form of batteries. Wike is a contractor, serving in the Army position under a contract with Erica Lane Enterprises.

Because of these intelligence capabilities, the system can determine when costs for power are high and decide to turn on the generator or pull from the solar panels. It can decide the best mix of power sources at a given time. When energy conservation is necessary, it can drop loads, designating certain pulls as not critical and turning them off. The system also monitors for power quality. Poor quality can damage electronics and result in additional payments to local utilities.

Wike explains that the current plan is to demonstrate how the microgrid affects the small level and eventually scale it up to power a group of buildings totaling around 1 million square feet, serving 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers. After that, it could cover the entire installation. The scalability is another uncommon feature compared to other microgrids, according to Wike.

Funding for the microgrid came from the U.S. Defense Department’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, which has several such projects across the military. Lockheed Martin Corporation won the work to design, build, commission and demonstrate the functionality of the intelligent microgrid for defense installations. The military is examining different microgrids at locations across the country, which are in different stages, to determine their various values. For the one at Fort Bliss, officials will be “taking data on it at least through the end of the summer,” Wike says. “We plan to see if it saves as much energy as we think it does. Does it provide the energy security that we think it does? Is it affordable? And can we make it larger? Is it scalable?”

Though needs at forward operating bases may be more immediately pressing, Wike explains that energy security and efficiency are important at stateside installations as well. The various experiments will lead to the most economical ways to procure efficiencies while providing energy security so troops have power at critical times.

At this point, Fort Bliss personnel have no concrete plans for moving the entire base to microgrids, but Wike says critical facilities all will eventually migrate to such technology. Timing is contingent on funding sources and the results of the intelligent mircogrid demonstration. Though the evaluation period is scheduled to end in the Fall, the system will continue to power the dining facility moving forward, barring any unexpected results.

Personnel are not only interested in novel alternative technologies. Maj. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, the commanding general of Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, says that the base is not trying to become an experimental platform and will build on what others are doing when appropriate. He adds that the goal is to reach net zero energy consumption by December 2020. Reaching that will require tapping into wind, solar and geothermal resources available at the installation.




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