Cleantech Market Intelligence
Why Military Microgrids’ Influence Exceeds Their Market Share
Glaring evidence of the electrical grid’s vulnerability to severe storms on the East Coast has increased interest in microgrids, which can provide continuous power in the event of a utility service blackout. As documented in Pike Research’s recent report, Military Microgrids, the U.S. military, the largest consumer of energy in the world, is one of the strongest proponents of this technology.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) microgrid that carries the greatest implications for the larger commercial market is located at Twentynine Palms, the large U.S. Marine Corps base, near Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Some 10,000 Marines train here at a site that stretches over 932 square miles, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. With a capacity of approximately 13 megawatts (MW), and a generation portfolio featuring solar photovoltaics (PV), combined heat and power (CHP), and a new advanced metal halide energy storage system, this stationary base microgrid is clearly the showcase for General Electric’s microgrid solution for DOD.
The most cutting edge microgrid testing program at Twentynine Palms, known as “ExFOB,” (Experimental Forward Operating Bases), is aimed at overseas installations. While the focus of large companies such as GE to date has been on domestic base military microgrids, the most radical innovations could occur overseas, where DOD operates approximately 600 FOBs, the majority of which are not connected with reliable power grids.
The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was chosen as the unit that would conduct the demonstration and testing of new renewable and efficiency technologies at ExFOB. The deserts of Southern California feature an environment in the United States that resembles that of Afghanistan, where the battalion would eventually deploy in August of 2011. The following three technologies were integrated into microgrid tests:
Solar Power Shade: The Military Solar Power Shade Shelter provides up to 1 kW of continuous solar power to low-power draw items. It also provides shade from the sun, reducing solar heat loads from 80% to 90%.
Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (GREENS): These solar PV-based systems are capable of continuous power, or 1 kW of peak power, designed to be scalable and adaptable for missions that do not require a full base-scale power source or energy storage.
Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs): Lighting kits provide continuous tent lighting over a 20-day period in temperatures from 85 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit. This saves a significant amount of energy and works well with renewable energy sources. The durable lighting system can be set up by two Marines in less than 5 minutes.
A handful of these hybrid solar PV/battery/diesel generator systems were first deployed in July 2011. They have proven so valuable that two small patrols in Afghanistan have been operating completely on renewable energy. Another small base has reduced fuel use by 90%. So far, over 400 portable Solar Portable Alternative Communication Energy Systems (SPACES) have already been deployed in Afghanistan, following testing and validation at ExFOB.
The DOD has played a consistent role in commercializing new technologies that provide tremendous social benefits in the civilian realm. The microgrid may be another instance where the DOD plays an incubator and market maker role. The developing world could apply a new model of grid infrastructure, as microgrids deployed initially by DOD are then adopted for non-military village power or industrial mine remote microgrid applications. The opportunity to help develop these microgrids has attracted a number of powerful technology companies beyond GE, including Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, Boeing, and Eaton.