By Dennis V. McGinn
Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment
In May 2014, Secretary Ray Mabus stood up the Renewable Energy Program Office (REPO) to help the Department of the Navy (DON) bring 1 gigawatt of renewable energy into procurement by the end of 2015. By identifying and executing cost-effective renewable energy projects for DON installations, REPO has enabled the DON to exceed the goal. With more than 1 gigawatt (see our July 6, 2015 post “What is a Gigawatt?”) in final negotiations and under construction, REPO will now begin to look for ways to further enhance energy security and resiliency. One of the ways REPO will be doing this is by adding microgrid technology to our installations to enhance our mission capability.
As the name implies, microgrids are miniature power grids. By using on-site resources like solar panels, batteries and backup generators, microgrids can produce enough power to function independently from the main power grid. No man is an island, but from a military perspective sometimes, it’s beneficial for our bases to be able to function like one. A self-supplied and self-contained energy system allows us to do precisely that, and to rely on our own defense of generation assets. Microgrids can continue to power our bases’ critical functions, even if something happens to the power plants, wires and poles outside our installations that usually supply our electricity. That said, we are working with utility providers and local communities to create greater “Regional Resiliency,” by extending microgrids to critical community functions when and where it makes sense.
The way our Navy bases acquire and use electricity is of paramount importance as we seek to fulfill our mission at home and abroad.
Here are three ways developing microgrids will make us stronger:
- Energy resilience. When natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina hit, it’s critical that our military installations can meet their key energy requirements 24/7. During long-term outages on the main electric grid, having reliable on-site sources of power at our bases will ensure we are equipped to respond effectively. An uninterrupted power supply is essential to support our humanitarian relief, emergency response, combat operations and homeland defense capabilities. In some cases, coordinating power resiliency efforts with local communities will result in better installation mission continuity.
- Energy security. The U.S power grid relies heavily on technology dating back to the ’60s and ’70s. This aging infrastructure is vulnerable to physical and cyber-attacks, natural disasters and malfunctions. Relying on the grid can put mission assurance at risk. We stand to benefit immensely from developing our own modern electrical infrastructure. For our bases to be truly mission-ready, we need to be capable of supplying our own power, no matter what is happening outside the fence line. With the energy security provided by microgrids, we will have reliable access to supplies of energy to meet our essential requirements.
- Cost savings. In fiscal year 2014, the Department of Defense reported 114 utility power outages at military installations that lasted eight hours or more. The financial impact of these outages reached $246,000 per day. Microgrids will help us avoid the heavy costs of long-term grid outages, and they will help reduce our energy bills overall as we incorporate our own energy generating assets – solar panels, gas turbines and fuel cells. Also, by increasing our use of free natural resources, we will achieve cost savings that can be re-invested into critical needs.
In the next phase of REPO, we’ll be looking at ways to produce cheaper and more reliable electricity with the goal of enhancing energy security and resiliency. Microgrids have already been successfully implemented at our bases in San Diego and Philadelphia, and many more projects are underway. The Navy has always been on the cutting edge of new technologies, and our investment in microgrid projects is a reflection of our commitment to innovation, progress and excellence.