3 Signs That US Defense Dept. Is Gung Ho For Renewable Energy + Microgrids


The US Department of Defense hasn’t exactly declared radio silence on renewable energy, but the sprawling global agency has been playing its clean tech news rather close to the vest over the past few years. That’s understandable, considering that the current Commander-in-Chief is not a particularly big fan of the non-fossil energy area. Nevertheless, DOD has been soldiering on into the sparkling green future, and three recent developments point in the direction of an accelerating transition to solar power and energy storage.

US Army Garrison Bavaria is among the US military facilities partnering in a new DoD microgrid initiative with renewable energy (photo courtesy of Xendee Corporation).

1. DOD + DOE + NRECA = New Microgrids With Renewable Energy

First up is a newly announced microgrid partnership between DoD, the US Department of Energy, and NRECA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

CleanTechnica has been spilling a lot of ink on the topic of rural electric cooperatives because they are in a unique position to innovate with renewables, energy storage, and other clean tech. That includes one of our favorite new topics, agrivoltaics and regenerative agriculture.

Almost 900 electric cooperatives blanket 56% of the US land mass and serve 42 million people. More to the point, they also provide electricity to 95 military facilities in the US.

Two of those military facilities will be participating in the new microgrid project, as part of a broader resiliency initiative for US military facilities.

The two facilities will get battery storage systems on site, and if all goes according to plan the installations will serve as a model for other DOD properties.

“This is a great example of how America’s electric co-ops and the more than 95 military facilities that they serve are evolving together,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson explained in a press release.

CleanTechnica is reaching out for more information on the renewable energy angle, so stay tuned for more on that.

For those of you keeping score at home, the participating cooperatives include Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in Colorado, and the West River Electric Association in South Dakota.

Poudre Valley REA recently set an 80%-by-2030 clean power goal for itself, with energy storage playing a major role in the plans. West River is also transitioning to clean power with an emphasis on solar.

The partnership also includes the North Carolina cooperative Tideland EMC. Tideland is one of 26 cooperatives in the state, under an umbrella organization that is on a mission to innovate on new clean technology and grid management systems, including electric vehicle charging.

2. Kirtland AFB Looks To Renewable Energy For Resiliency

For an advance look at what the two new DOD microgrid projects will look like, let’s turn to Kirtland Air Force Base, where DOD and the Department of Energy have already launched a microgrid into operation, complete with energy storage and renewable energy.

“The project…resulted in the installation of a single-bus, ten-node 250 kW DC microgrid on KAFB that links together generation and load between Kirtland DoD facilities, Sandia’s Distributed Energy Technology Laboratory (DETL), and the Photovoltaic Systems Evaluation Laboratory (PSEL) to power a demonstration site consisting of six housing units, a laundromat and a community center,” DOE recapped earlier this summer.

Everything went swimmingly, it seems.

“From its inception only a year ago to its unveiling last fall, the project has achieved several milestones. It has been successfully operating autonomously since December 15, 2019, functioning as a working microgrid, providing energy to the living facilities under real “blue sky” conditions as well as under a variety of simulated “black sky” scenarios,” enthused DOE.

To ice the cake, the system can trade power with the surrounding grid in addition to operating independently in island mode.

As for the renewable energy angle, that’s even more icing on the green cake. According to DOE, the system achieved sustained operation with an average renewable energy penetration topping 100% and was also able to pull off the challenging “black start” operation.

The proof-of-concept project was brought online last fall through a first-of-its-kind cooperative agreement between DOE and DOD, which apparently will not be the last, judging from its performance.

3. A Global Microgrid + Energy Storage Revolution for DOD

It appears that DOD is already moving past the proof of concept stage and is ready to blow up the whole field of microgrids, energy storage, and renewable energy.

The third bit of news involves the company Xendee Corporation, which entered into a contract with DOD last May to engineer something called “the Standardized Platform to Guide Rapid and Repeatable Modelling and Design of Secure and Resilient DoD Microgrids” globally.

Yes, that’s globally.

The renewable energy angle comes through loud and clear. The contract calls for Xendee to deliver microgrid designs that “enhance energy reliability, while providing new services such as the ability to safely ride-out prolonged utility power outages and sustain mission critical operations, using renewable energy resources and storage in an integrated Microgrid system.”

DOD, for one, is thrilled. The project comes under the wing of DOD’s ESTCP ( Environmental Security Technology Certification Program) office, which seems bent on racing full speed into the microgrid of the future.

“Reducing the time and cost associated with Microgrid design and implementation will expand the application of this technology to more DoD installations increasing energy resilience and mission readiness,” the office stated in a press release.

The Energy Department is supporting the project through its Lawrence Livermore and Pacific Northwest national laboratories, and DOD is chipping in with “mission critical Microgrid planning experts from US Naval Facilities Command Expeditionary Warfare Center, Peterson Air Force Base, US Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, US Army Corps of Engineers, and US Army Garrison Bavaria.”

Never heard of Xendee? Neither have we! The company has made nary a blip on the CleanTechnica radar, but expect to hear more. Xendee has made its name in the microgrid space, billing its end-to-end platform as the leading decision support system for DER and Microgrid planning.”

Onward & Upward For Renewable Energy & Microgrids

All of this didn’t just pop out of thin air, of course. DOD went on a renewable energy tear all throughout the Obama administration, and microgrids with energy storage have been part of the mix.

The R&D on military microgrids began a serious ramp-up in 2013 with the “SPIDERS” self-forming microgrid program, which is also eyeing the electric vehicle connection. The work has continued into the Trump* administration. That includes transportable renewable energy and microgrids for forward operating bases, as well as systems for permanent military installations.

In yet another interesting development, earlier this year DOD tapped NRECA for a $1.9 million microgrid grant that will dovetail with the newly announced microgrid projects and open things out to all 95 facilities currently served by NRECA members.

NRECA has already developed something called the Open Modeling Framework, which provides its members with a one-stop source for making decisions about smart grid technology.

The framework enables coops to plug their own operational data into the software, along with local weather and geographic data, before they invest in new technology.

It sure looks like the COVID-19 recovery is shaping up to be a green one, regardless of the hot air blowing out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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*Developing story.

Photo: “The U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria (USAG Bavaria) at Garmisch, Germany uses XENDEE for its resilient Microgrid and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) projects. The XENDEE team, together with USAG personnel are collaborating on the conceptual, technical, and electrical design of Microgrid systems that cost-effectively improve energy security and resilience performance compared to small-scale power delivery systems without storage,” courtesy of Xendee.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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