How Military Microgrids Boost Energy Reliability and Efficiency for the Marine Corps

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Military microgrid

Photo By Cpl. Christopher Johns

Military microgrids can save the Marine Corps hundreds of man hours, reduce fuel use, and lower costs through automatic load sharing. U.S. Marine Private Robert Bliss explains.

The high-tech gear the Marine Corps uses continues to evolve each year. Power generators allow the Marine Corps to operate its gear no matter the environment. Recently, the Marine Corps began utilizing a microgrid to supplement the performance of their power generators.

A microgrid is an energy system consisting of distributed energy sources and loads capable of operating in conjunction with, or independently from a main power grid. With microgrids, energy storage is able to perform multiple functions, such as ensuring power quality, including frequency and voltage regulation. It also smoothes the output of renewable energy sources, which provides backup power for the system, all while lowering costs.

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Marines implemented microgrids to test their capabilities in a field environment during I Marine Expeditionary Forces Large Scale Exercise 2016. I MEF LSE-16 is designed to enhance the command and control and interoperability between I MEF command element staff and its higher, adjacent and subordinate command headquarters. LSE simulates the planning, deployment and combat operations of a MEF-level force of more than 50,000 military members within a partner country while operating alongside coalition forces.

“The microgrid is an automatic load sharing system,” said Sgt. James Kahl, an engineer equipment electrical systems technician, Combat Service Support Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group. “Whether you have environmental control units that are turning on or servers that are coming online, as the generator increases its load, the microgrid allows a secondary generator to automatically start up and split the load between the two so that way one generator can’t be overloaded and you end up losing power all together.”

Maintaining power is an important component for completing the Corps’ missions, especially considering they are expeditionary in nature.

A Marine Air-Ground Task Force is a unit formed to accomplish global missions, which is comprised of a ground combat element, air combat element, combat service support element, and a command element which leads the unit and conducts command and control.

For a command element, a loss of power can be a serious detriment, especially when commanders are relying on available power to communicate with their subordinate commanders in the field.

“Prior to the microgrid we simply ran multiple generators independently,” Kahl said. “You would need Marines to closely monitor the power output of each generator and manually adjust for power outages. With the microgrid, it allows for automatic load sharing between generators so gone are the days where we would have to send Marines out to monitor the loads.”

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This technology saves the Marine Corps hundreds of man hours and is more fuel efficient because it regulates power overage for several generators at once, he added.

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“This is going to pull the Marine Corps in a positive direction,” Kahl said. “It not only saves on the work hours required to maintain multiple generators but is also better fiscally for the Marine Corps. This is the type of technology that I can see being around for a very long time.”

Not only are microgrids more fiscally and technologically efficient, but they have an operational advantage, as well.

“The microgrids reduce our logistical footprint,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matias Kennedy, project officer, Intelligent Power Management Systems, Marine Corps Forces Systems Command. “Now, instead of every unit going to the field and bringing their own generator, units are able to split the load between shared generators. This increases the reliability and stability of power support to critical infrastructures.”

Kahl said that when he was first presented with this new technology he didn’t quite know what to think; Marines had been using power generators the same way for a long time. Now he couldn’t be happier that he gets to use this new system.

“We’re still producing the initial estimates for how much fuel and money we saved by switching over to the use of microgrids,” Kennedy said. “But we’re very much looking forward to the results, I think this new system is a big step forward.”

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