Though most of the buzz about smart grid efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere involves individual utilities rolling out smart meters or governments establishing policies to promote smart grid technology deployment, a third entity has been paying attention to the benefits to be gained from smarter electricity generation, distribution, and use. Its work may be less visible to the general public, but the Department of Defense (DOD) and all branches of the U.S. military have been involved for some time in finding ways to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use both at home and in forward operating bases (FOBs). Integrating smart grid technologies is a logical extension of those efforts.
If DOD spokespersons and the smart grid media are to be believed, we shouldn't be surprised if some of the most significant smart grid/electricity system developments come from the military in the next few years. This article starts by looking at the factors working in favor of this vision and closes with some of the ways that military smart grid efforts could migrate to civilian power systems. In between you'll find a rundown of what's happening in the military smart grid arena.
The military has an almost perfect set of conditions for developing a variety of advanced, "smart" technologies centered on electricity generation, delivery, and use.Necessity.
The DOD is one of the largest energy consumers worldwide and the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. At a White House Energy Security Forum in April 2011, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III
noted that the DOD accounts for 80% of U.S. federal energy use (and somewhere between 1% and 2% of nationwide consumption), consumes more energy than is used by two-thirds of all the nations on Earth, and has annual energy bills in the tens of billions of dollars ($15 billion in 2010). As in the civilian world, the number of electrically powered devices keeps increasing, so demand tends to rise as well. Consequently, ensuring a reliable supply of energy for both transportation and power can be challenging.
Surety of supply poses challenges for both stationary and FOB installations. According to Lynn, more than 70% of convoys in Afghanistan are used to transport fuel or water and are easy targets for insurgents' roadside bombs. More than 3,000 U.S. troops and contractors had been killed or wounded protecting them as of April 2011.
The desire to keep its people safe—by minimizing the amount of fuel that U.S. forces need to move around in combat zones to fuel electricity generators and vehicles—is a powerful motivating factor for many of the military's smart grid, energy efficiency, and renewable energy initiatives. Sharon E. Burke,
assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, told the audience at the Military Smart Grids and Microgrids Conference in October 2011: "When you consider that we move about 50 million gallons of fuel every month right now in Afghanistan, much of which is for power generation, you begin to understand the huge financial cost of this fuel." Burke noted that the fuel powers more than 15,000 generators in Afghanistan alone. She added that better combat power generation has benefits that include less need for fuel, reduced noise and heat signatures, less maintenance, and a lighter force.
Protecting defense-related people, projects, and property at home is also a concern. Remember that DOD facilities are, for the most part, connected to the national grid, making them vulnerable to massive outages like those experienced in 2003 in the Northeast and in 2011 in the Southwest. Money.
Though some Americans may balk at the Department of Energy (DOE) issuing grants and loan guarantees to advance utility smart grid or renewable projects, they are much less aware of the money spent through the Pentagon on similar projects for the military.
For example, Dorothy Robyn, DOD deputy undersecretary for installations and environment, told Defense News
on Oct. 31, 2011: "I've been delegated the authority to sign off on renewable projects that go out beyond the 10-year authority that most federal agencies have. We're the only federal agency that has the authority to go out to 30 years. What that does is allow us to do projects that are bigger and have a longer payback period." Robyn also noted that her department can take advantage of third-party financing for renewable and energy efficiency projects.
A September 2011 Pew Charitable Trusts report, From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces,
found that "DoD clean energy investments increased 200 percent between 2006 and 2009, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, and that they are projected to eclipse $10 billion annually by 2030." Figure 1 shows the location of energy test bed project locations. Adding renewables to a stationary or mobile installation requires "smarter" energy system management than a "plug-and-play" generator; hence, the interest in various smart grid-related technologies.1. Locations of DOD energy test beds in the U.S. Courtesy: Pew Charitable Trusts
Despite the large increases for renewables, even the Pentagon is feeling the pinch of financial constraints. As Pike Research notes in its 2011 forecast for military microgrid activity, "The greatest uncertainty impacting these forecasts is related to efforts to balance the federal budget in the coming years. In response to this funding uncertainty, a growing number of military operations are exploring demand response and 'virtual power plant' models that generate near-term revenue, thereby setting the stage for microgrids in the near future."
As Lynn said
in July 2011, "For the past decade, we have lived in an environment in which new security challenges could be met by increased resources. Going forward, we will not have that luxury. We cannot simply spend more to cover a new mission. We are going to have to make hard choices about how to reallocate the resources we already have."
To address this situation, in 2011 the DOD released its first Operational Energy Strategy,
which calls for a portfolio of energy conservation, renewable energy, and smart grid approaches to minimize costs. Ability.
The military has the capacity to innovate with fewer layers of "stakeholder involvement" than most utilities, which need to accommodate the concerns of shareholders, customers, state and federal regulators, and a variety of interest groups.
For example, Executive Order 13423
requires federal agencies to reduce energy intensity by 3% each year,
leading to a 30% reduction by the end of fiscal year 2015, compared to a FY 2003 baseline, and the DOD aims to get 25% of its power from renewables by 2025
(Figure 2). Such mandates tend to accelerate the pace of change.2. 25% by 2025. Courtesy: Pew Charitable Trusts Track Record.
The military has served as an incubator for the development of many technologies that migrated to the civilian/commercial space, including computing, the Internet, jet engines, high-performance materials, and nuclear power. It has been an early adopter—often the first adopter—of cutting-edge technologies. Of course, it has also tested technologies that either didn't make the deployment cut or didn't translate into commercial applications. But by virtue of its size, budget, mission, and capabilities, the Pentagon has at least the potential to accelerate development of components and practices that are essential to a smarter, more robust, and secure grid.Systems Thinking.
Another reason the U.S. military is, at least potentially, an ideal fast-track test bed for smart grid development is that it is used to systems thinking—considering all of the interconnected components of an infrastructure so that it can be made secure in either a stationary or mobile operation. A true full-blown smart grid would calculate, calibrate, and control all the inputs and outputs of a complete energy system, from energy sources to end uses. Although the DOD doesn't yet have anything resembling a comprehensive smart grid, it may get there faster than individual utilities or regional grids.