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The DoD Embracing Microgrid Technology

image credit: Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

It's easy for the average consumer to take the electrical grid for granted. You flip a switch and the light comes on, so you don't pay it much thought. This isn't always the case, though.

Microgrids might seem like something relegated to rural areas and anywhere that it might be challenging to connect to the grid, but when it comes to energy resiliency, the Department of Defense (DoD) may start embracing this technology. So why is the DoD looking at microgrids to preserve the countrywide electrical grid?

The Department of Defense and Energy Resiliency

Everything we do relies on energy in its various forms, from the fuel in your vehicle or your home's furnace, to the electricity in every lightbulb and appliance. We experience outages from time to time, usually related to weather or natural disasters. For the average homeowner, they're usually nothing more than an inconvenience.

However, weather-related outages cost the United States between $25 and $70 billion every year. That number will likely continue to climb as climate change creates more severe weather events.

For military operations, a power outage is more than an inconvenience — it could be downright disastrous. These operations require resilient power and fuel infrastructure to ensure they're ready to go at a moment's notice. That's where microgrids come in.

Instead of relying on diesel generators alone — which aren't always the best choice if fuel sources become scarce — these military microgrids use a combination of generators, battery backups and solar power. One such setup can power the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station for up to three weeks without any assistance from the local grid.

Demonstration Projects and Civilian Adoption

The microgrid at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station is just one example of the possible applications for this technology, and the DoD is hoping that these demonstration projects will help to fuel civilian adoption as well. Rural areas around the country may find they're only connected to the local grid by a single main power umbilical. If it gets damaged or destroyed, it could leave entire cities without power until the power company can perform repairs.

In some places, like Northern California, which is currently gripped by expansive wildfires, power companies are shutting off power to these rural areas to prevent a repeat of the 2018 Camp Fire that burned 153,000 acres, destroyed the town of Paradise, California, and killed 85 people. Investigators later found that faulty electrical lines belonging to PG&E had contributed, which is the reason for the extra caution. Microgrids could keep these towns powered while the main grid is offline.

Of course, getting a microgrid up and running isn't as easy for civilians as it might be for military contractors. Electrical wiring issues are one of the most frequently cited OSHA violations in warehouses and other commercial facilities, and those are handled by professionals. The DoD may be encouraging civilian adoption of microgrids as a way to bolster the existing energy grid, but it's not a project for the average DIYer to tackle.

Are Microgrids the Future of Energy Distribution?

Microgrids are starting to pop up all around the country and all around the globe. Are they the future of the energy industry? It may be too early to tell, but with weather events getting more severe every year, microgrids may be the best way to keep everyone's lights on as we move into the future.

We will likely see more examples of microgrids on military bases and other DoD-controlled properties before we start to see them become truly mainstream in civilian circles, but they could end up being the best way to ensure energy resiliency for both military and civilian power grids.

Emily Folk's picture

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 17, 2020 4:25 pm GMT

It's interesting that this sounds like an area where the military is playing catch up as opposed to being the source of where the technology first came from-- but perhaps there are microgrid and smart grid techs that the military is testing or even using that simply aren't public knowledge yet, similar to how transportation and weapons are deployed in military settings first. 

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