Military advances energy independence with microgrids

This article originally appeared at Energy Efficiency Markets.

When you think about it, the military's interest in microgrid technology makes sense: With its need for facilities to stay powered all day every day, getting off the grid is critical.

"Microgrids provide the military with energy security and reliability 24-7 and 365 days a year. They need power if the entire world disappears around them," says John Carroll, business development director for Intelligent Power and Energy Research Corp., a New York-based company that manufactures microgrid controls and is a contractor for installations on four bases.

The military isn't the only organization that thinks the Navy, Army and other arms of the government need to get into microgrids and renewable energy. The Department of Defense recently published a report, "Quadrennial Defense Review" (PDF), an assessment of U.S. defense readiness, which focuses on the growing threat that climate change poses to military capabilities and global operations. In addition, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says that we'll be seeing more extreme weather across the globe.

Given all these pressures, Carroll predicts that the military market for microgrids is in the tens of billions of dollars. "The total available market is huge," he says.

What's more, the military's interest in microgrids is fueling the interest of municipalities and utilities.

"The military is the technology leader. Every utility is looking at the Department of Defense for how they are deploying microgrids. At conferences all over the country, utilities and municipalities are coming together to understand what the military has been doing," he says. "The military is absolutely the leader."

Microgrid military potential

The military microgrid market will produce more than 54.8 megawatts (MW) of capacity by 2018, according to a report from Red Mountain Insights, "Military Microgrids Market Potential." More than 40 U.S. military bases have microgrids in operation or are planning or studying them. Afghanistan, in particular, needs efficient, mobile microgrids. The Department of Defense moves about 50 million gallons of fuel monthly in Afghanistan, much of it to power more than 15,000 generators, according to the report.

Intelligent Power and Energy Research Corp., which has been in the microgrid business for 10 years, sees all this as good news for its company. However, says Carroll, funding the installations is a major challenge. The four base installations were funded by the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security, a Department of Defense program.

"That program will end this time next year," Carroll said. "The next step: It will be up to individual bases and their budgets, or private partnerships and state grants. It will become a collage of money sources."

A collage of issues have come together to create the need for the military to embrace microgrids. Will the collage of funding sources help fill the need?

Army microgrid image courtesy of U.S. Army.