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Baskar Vairamohan's picture
Principal Project Manager Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)

Baskar Vairamohan is a Principal Project Manager in the Energy Utilization group of the Power Delivery and Utilization Sector at the Electric Power Research Institute.

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  • Sep 27, 2021 9:38 pm GMT
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How electric technologies can help the military achieve its mission

The U.S. military owns a huge amount of real estate. According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has a portfolio of more than 280,000 buildings representing two billion square feet. That is about three times the combined square footage of all the Wal-Mart stores across America and more than four times the amount of commercial real estate space in all of New York City.

These buildings are located at Army, Navy, and Air Force facilities in nearly every state and have a wide range of uses, from warehouses and schools to food service facilities and hospitals. “Military facilities have all the types of buildings you would expect in any city,” said Baskar Vairamohan, an EPRI principal project manager. “There’s a lot of energy demand beyond the buildings at these facilities, with a wide range of equipment and vehicles.”

In fact, military facilities account for about one percent of annual U.S. electricity consumption, and the DoD spends about $4 billion on the electricity, natural gas, and other fuels needed to operate its bases. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), jet fuel is responsible for more than half of all energy use by the DoD.

 

Opportunities to reduce emissions and save money

In late 2020, EPRI’s Vairamohan published a report examining electrification opportunities at military bases, including buildings, off-road transportation, and other equipment. Reducing carbon emissions and water and energy consumption are significant drivers of the military’s interest in efficient electrification.

In fact, the Biden administration issued an executive order in February titled, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” The executive order has two main goals, one of which is “taking a government-wide approach to the climate crisis” by rebuilding infrastructure for a sustainable economy. As part of this, DoD facilities must reduce carbon emissions while increasing energy resilience and reliability.

EPRI’s report identifies a range of military electrification opportunities that could reduce emissions and save money. It also discusses barriers to electrification at DoD facilities. For example, any technology the military considers must match or exceed the reliability of technologies already deployed at DoD sites.

“Typically, bases are not looking for state-of-the-art equipment. They want tried-and-true, reliable systems that are fail-safe. They don’t want to be a test bed for new technologies,” said Vairamohan. “That is one reason why they have a lot of fossil-based technology. They know it works and it can operate at a moment’s notice. For equipment that may be needed in the field, they also need to know that it can operate reliably under extreme weather conditions, like very high or low temperatures.”

The military’s 410 hospitals and medical clinics around the U.S. could potentially benefit from a number of electric technologies. Autoclaves, for example, produce steam at 250°F and above in order to sterilize medical equipment by killing harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores. Like commercial hospitals, military facilities typically use autoclaves that get their steam from fossil fuel (usually natural gas) powered boilers. At smaller military clinics, including field hospitals, autoclaves are powered by propane or fuel oil.

Autoclaves that use electricity to generate steam offer economic and environmental advantages over fossil autoclaves. An EPRI study found that while electric autoclaves cost about $3,100 more to purchase and install than natural gas autoclaves, their annual maintenance and energy costs are about $600 and $5,000 less, respectively.

Annual emissions of carbon dioxide from a typical electric autoclave is 400,000 pounds less, annual emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are 161 pounds less, and annual emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx) are nearly 2,000 pounds less. Other electric technologies that could potentially benefit military medical facilities include ultraviolet (UV) air disinfecting systems— which emit UV light that can reduce the transmission of disease- causing airborne bacteria—and heat recovery chillers that use waste heat to control humidity in operating rooms and labs.

 

In the air and on the sea

While electric aviation is a topic of ongoing research by the U.S. Air Force, replacing the jet fuel used by military airplanes with electricity is not currently viable. But electrifying ground support equipment used at Air Force bases has potential today. For example, the mobile ground units that provide power to airplanes typically rely on diesel- powered generators.

Assuming a 20-year lifespan and nine hours of daily operation, EPRI found that while an electric ground power unit’s upfront capital and installation costs are $2,000 more than a diesel version, its annual maintenance and energy costs are $800 and $10,000 lower, respectively. Over 20 years, the electric version costs $170,000 less and emits 1.3 million fewer pounds of carbon, nearly 52,000 fewer pounds of NOx, and about 3,000 fewer pounds of SOx.

U.S. Navy bases are already electrifying. For example, the Indian Island Naval Base in Washington State replaced two diesel generators used to power docked ships with an electric powered version, reducing annual carbon emissions by nearly 1.5 million pounds.

 

How utilities can work with the military

In April, the U.S. Army announced that it had selected six companies to develop electric combat vehicles able to operate in challenging, remote locations. EPRI’s report notes that military bases are already adopting non-combat electric vehicles. At a recent White House - convened meeting about expanding the federal government’s EV charging infrastructure, the Biden administration highlighted promising partnerships between the DoD and utilities like National Grid, American Electric Power (AEP), and Xcel Energy.

“Light-duty passenger vehicles, electric buses, and medium and heavy-duty trucks are all gaining traction,” said Watson Collins, an EPRI technical executive who focuses on electric transportation. “Advances in power electronics and battery technologies are leading to slow, steady EV adoption at military bases, and that should speed up as charging infrastructure options grow.”

Because military bases are located across the country, utilities everywhere have an opportunity to engage with the DoD at the local level. In fact, individual bases make their own purchasing decisions, using established mechanisms known as Energy Savings Performance Contracts and Utility Energy Service Contracts that are designed to promote energy resilience and conservation. “You don’t have to go through procurement in Washington, DC,” said Vairamohan.

According to Vairamohan, utilities can play an important role in informing local military leaders about how electric technologies can help achieve the DoD’s broader objectives for emissions, cost reductions, and resilience.

“Utilities can serve as a trusted advisor. Military decision makers sometimes may not be fully up-to-date on the technical and economic viability of current and emerging electric technologies and on how they can benefit the military. Utilities can provide details on how specific applications of various electric technologies can help the military achieve its goals."

 

This article appeared in the September issue of EPRI's Efficient Electrification newsletter. Sign up here to receive future newsletters. 

Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
As an independent, nonprofit organization, we focus on electricity generation, delivery, and use to make electric power safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible.
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Audra Drazga on Sep 29, 2021

Baskar - welcome to the community and thanks for sharing.  I look forward to seeing you in the community on a regular basis!

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