Microgrids as the next duct tape: The military’s latest projects

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In its quest to improve national security, the US military often inadvertently advances innovations that benefit us in everyday life. The military gets credit for microwaves, GPS and duct tape to name a few. It looks like future historians may add microgrids to the list.

military microgrids

Thunderbirds stationed at Nelllis AFB. Courtesy of Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock.com

To be clear, the US military didn’t invent microgrids. Thomas Edison did. But the military is driving microgrid growth — and helping the concept reach scale — as it pursues a mission to improve energy resilience at its facilities. The Army, for example, has set a goal to equip all of its bases with microgrids by 2035.

California, Maryland and Nevada are home to three recent military microgrid deals. 

Los Alamitos 

In California, the Army last week announced that it has executed a 30-year lease agreement with Bright Canyon Energy (BCE) for a microgrid at Joint Forces Training Base-Los Alamitos (JFTB-LA), which is located about 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Bright Canyon Energy, a subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital, develops, builds, acquires, owns and operates energy infrastructure.

Under the deal, BCE will own and operate the Los Alamitos project, which will include 26 MW of solar photovoltaics, 20 MW/40 MWh of battery energy storage and 3 MW of backup generators.

Designed to power the 100-acre base for at least 14 days, the microgrid is crucial because Los Alamitos is the primary emergency management hub for the California National Guard in Southern California, according to JFTB garrison commander Lt. Col. Manju Vig.

“The Guard’s ability to execute this critical mission is predicated on our access to on-site renewable generation that this project provides us to support large-scale emergency response operations,” Vig said.

Los Alamitos also sees the microgrid as a play that will help both the base and the surrounding community. The microgrid will provide the base with reliable power when the grid is down. When the grid is operating normally, it will sell energy and capacity to local utility San Diego Gas & Electric.

Learn more about the US military’s microgrid strategy at Microgrid 2022: Microgrids as Climate Heroes.

“When we increase energy resilience while powering the local grid, it is a winning solution across the board,” said Rachel Jacobson, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

Fort Detrick

Fort Detrick Army Garrison in Frederick, Maryland, is adding a 6 MW/6 MWh battery energy storage system to its 18.6 MW direct current solar energy facility, making the project “microgrid ready,” according to Massachusetts-based energy developer Ameresco. Ameresco is working on the project with Virginia-based DLA Energy. Both companies are heavily involved in military energy infrastructure improvement and services.

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The term “microgrid ready” is often used to describe a project that is built in stages and designed to become a full microgrid eventually.

Fort Detrick expects the project to save it $125,000 annually on utility costs; it will earn revenue by participating in demand response and frequency regulation programs.

Ameresco’s relationship with Fort Detrick dates back to 2015 when it was awarded a 26-year renewable energy supply agreement and site lease to design, build, finance, and operate and maintain the solar project. The solar field has 59,994 solar panels, nine central inverters and transformers, and medium-voltage overhead lines and underground electric distribution. It serves about 12% of Fort Detrick’s annual electric load requirements.

“We commend the Army for taking yet another step to improve their energy infrastructure through battery energy storage technologies at Fort Detrick,” said Nicole Bulgarino, executive vice president at Ameresco. “This installation ties in the renewable energy generation from the existing solar arrays to a system that will allow the base to be microgrid ready, ultimately creating a more resilient and future-energy ready base.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in early 2023.

Nellis AFB

The third deal brings together Yotta Energy, an energy storage company that focuses on the commercial and industrial market, and Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) in Las Vegas, Nevada. The US Department of Defense Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) awarded Yotta $1.97 million for a solar plus storage microgrid at the base.

“Yotta Energy is a great candidate for this [ESTCP] program because of the distributed and flexible solution the technology provides for different use-cases on military installations,” said Timothy Tetreault, ESTCP project manager. “We are excited to implement this technology at Nellis Air Force Base as we strive to future proof our military with resilient and sustainable solutions.”

To read about more about US military microgrids, see Microgrid Knowledge’s channel on the topic.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.