The U.S military is ramping up its commitment to solar energy and other alternative fuels with two new demonstration projects for smart microgrid technology. These microgrids can draw energy interchangeably from solar arrays and other sources to cut costs, improve logistics, and reduce the troop safety risks involved in fossil fuel convoys. As part of the military’s drive to lead the civilian sector to more secure and sustainable energy sources, the projects are designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of microgrids at large civilian facilities as well as military installations. Corporate parks, industrial complexes and educational institutions would be prime candidates.
One of the sustainable microgrid projects is being carried out now at the world’s largest Marine Corps base, Twentynine Palms Base in California, and the other will be conducted at the Wheeler Air Base in Hawaii beginning in September. At Wheeler alone, the Army is hoping for a cut in fuel consumption of up to 60% and a reduction in the number of generators it needs.
The U.S. Military and Sustainable Power
The Department of Defense is pursuing sustainable energy all over the map, including microbial fuel cells, portable solar power for the Marines and fighter jet biofuel for the Navy and Air Force among a growing number of solar arrays at military bases such as Pearl Harbor. Increasing energy efficiency is another point of focus, through such projects as non toxic anti-barnacle coatings for ships’ hulls, next-generation desalination processes, and diesel-electric hybrid vehicles. Microgrid technology fits in as a transitional step that enables sustainable energy to supplement conventional fossil fuels seamlessly, and as a way to manage an energy future that gives fossil fuels the boot almost entirely in favor of multiple renewable fuel sources.
Microgrids at U.S. Military Bases
At Wheeler, the microgrid developed by Honeywell Aerospace will be capable of distributing electricity from solar energy and other sources, and provide for portable energy that enables troops in battle zones and other remote locations to operate with far less resupply baggage than fossil fuels involve. It is also designed to pull more efficiency out of existing “legacy generators” and ensure that power is delivered without interruption in emergencies. The focus is similar at Twentynine Palms, where a demonstration project from General Electric is under way. At both, the microgrids are expected to cut the cost of energy supply by decreasing reliance on the outside electrical grid.
The U.S. Military and True Energy Security
In some civilian circles, energy security for the U.S. simply means drilling for more oil in American soil and coastal areas, and buying less foreign oil. The military doesn’t see it that way. The Department of Defense has established a far more insightful and comprehensive approach that calls for ending reliance on fossil fuels altogether, due to their high risks for environmental and public health, their potential to create global political instability related to climate change, their role as a flashpoint for military action regardless of climate change, their expense, and above all the impact of fossil fuels on troop safety and supply logistics in the field. Because the civilian sector has failed to act, the military has adopted an explicit policy of going beyond merely meeting the requirements of existing environmental regulations, and using every constitutional means within its disposal to lead the country to a safer, saner way to harvest energy. It is beyond ironic that many of the same politicians and pundits who would otherwise profess to support our troops have instead blocked this goal at every opportunity.
Image: U.S. Army soldier by Spc. Nathaniel Muth on flickr.com.
Tina Casey 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. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.