General Electric, the world's largest industrial company, will work with the Department of Defense in a $2 million project to transform the Twentynine Palms facility, the world's largest Marine Corps base, into a model smart microgrid system.
GE announced today that it was awarded the contract, which is being funded with Recovery Act money from the DOD's Environmental Security Technology Certification Program.
The move advances GE in the smart grid arena as an increasing number of public-private partnerships and projects emerge to develop intelligent, integrated systems to efficiently manage energy from its generation at multiple sources to the many points of its delivery.
"The way to think about microgrid technology is that it's another tool in the tool box when you look at the smart grid -- it is designed to address specific challenges, but it is also an important piece of the overall smart grid strategy," John Kern, the manager of GE's Smart Grid Research Lab, told GreenBiz.com and GreenerBuildings.com.
In metro areas, a number of projects are under way to bring smart grid technology -- such as intelligent power meters and automated controls for demand response and other functions -- into homes and businesses.
In remote or self-contained facilities and communities with the capacity to generate and store their own energy, advanced smart energy management technology can be seen in the creation of intelligent microgrids -- which are basically smart, site-specific power grids that enable better system management.
Smart microgrids help sites more efficiently balance generation, storage, load and demand. As largely self-contained systems, microgrids can also more readily contend with the variables that arise with renewables, enabling better integration of those power sources in electrical distribution networks. Microgrids also help sites interface more efficiently with regional grids.
The vast Twentynine Palms Base in California houses the Marine Corps Combat Center. The Corps' premier site for training exercises occupies 932 square miles in the southern Mojave Desert, an area about the three-quarters the size of Rhode Island. Like most U.S. military bases, Twentynine Palms generates power on site to cover critical needs -- it has a solar plant as well as a fuel cell installation -- and is connected to a larger electrical grid network, the California grid.
GE plans to design a system for the base that features a suite of microgrid control technologies. The system is intended to serve as a showpiece of smart energy management for deployment of microgrid technology in general and, more specifically, for military bases.
U.S. military installations consumed 3.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year, enough electricity to power 350,000 households in the United States, according to GE. In addition to their size and demand, military facilities also have unique challenges related to systems security, stability and the capacity to maintain high performance in high-level emergencies -- even if separated from the regional grid.
At Twentynine Palms, the centerpiece of the new system will be a GE microgrid controller with advanced algorithms and computational decision engines that will be installed at the base's grid control center, where it is expected to integrate seamlessly. By performing its management functions, the new system will reduce energy consumption and the facility's carbon footprint while enabling the base to "extend its operations capability if it is divorced from the California grid for any reason," Kern said.
"Make no mistake, the base can operate independently off the grid today," said Kern, "but it's not going to do it in the most optimal way."
The new system is expected to take care of that, he said.
GE's work with microgrids began in 2005 when it received a $4.2 million Department of Energy grant for a two-year project to develop a microgrid energy management system. The company further developed the technology in working with the Canadian government and a remote community in the western part of that country.
In another development today, GE and Colorado startup Tendril announced that they have agreed to jointly develop software that will enable smart GE home appliances to communicate with the grid and utilities -- a connection that would facilitate utilities' demand response programs.
The firms said their arrangement is the first collaboration of its kind and promotes an open platform approach to smart energy management: The new technology is to become a feature of Tendril's Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem (TREE) platform. Utilities that use it are expected to be able to control smart GE appliances -- refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, dryers, microwaves, ranges and hybrid electric water heaters -- whose owners are participating in demand response programs. The new technology is also expected to facilitate communication between utilities and smart appliances made by other companies.
Combat Center Colonel Retires — Photo by Cpl. Margaret Clark Hughes, Courtesy of USMC.
Tank Training Exercise - Photo by Cpl. J.J. Butler, Courtesy of USMC.
Microgrid Controller, Project Overview Chart — Courtesy of GE.