America’s Defense Department is the largest single global consumer of petroleum, and its military operations comprise the largest demand source for all forms of energy. In addition, bases located within the United States and abroad depend on aging transmission systems susceptible to cyber-terrorism and extreme weather.
So, what would happen if the US military shifted efforts away from transporting energy over long and insecure distances to establishing a network of independent microgrids that integrate distributed renewable generation, electric vehicles, and demand response at its bases?
The answer, according to a new Pike Research report, is 54.8 megawatts total capacity across all global installations by 2018 – in an average growth scenario – and perhaps the largest market force driving the world’s overall microgrid market.
Fewer Security Risks, Lower Fuel Costs
Shifting major stationary bases, in-theater forward operating bases, and mobile tactical operations toward distributed generation and self-reliance make sense both for sheer financial costs and overall security.
US military operations in Afghanistan have paid the equivalent of $400 per gallon of fuel, when all costs (security, transportation, and mortalities) are added to the equation, and electricity generation is the single largest battlefield consumer of fuel.
Enter microgrids. They’re an ideal option for the military – they integrate renewables like small-scale wind and solar, reduce fuel consumption by networking generators as a system to boost efficiency, and allow individual bases to remain operational even if supply lines or transmission lines are cut.
“Analysis has led the DOD to the inevitable conclusion that the best way to bolster its ability to secure power may well be through microgrid technology it can own and control… furthermore, recent mandates require an increase in reliance upon renewable energy developed onsite” (Pike Research executive summary)
A Future Full Of Integrated Renewables
Many bases have existing “vintage” microgrids based on fossil fuels, but a new strategic focus on incorporating renewable distributed energy generation (RDEG) is taking shape across all branches of the armed forces. Theoretically, these RDEG microgrids create the ultimate energy security through endless wind and solar electricity.
Pike’s analysis has identified over 40 U.S. military facilities with RDEG microgrids in operation, planned, under study, or in demonstration. In addition, up to 600 forward operating bases and countless tactical units could integrate microgrid systems. While the Marines show the fastest initial capacity growth, the Army has the greatest long-term potential due to its larger number of stationary bases.
The US military’s microgrid future demonstrates once more the simple fact that renewables and distributed generation aren’t just some hippie fallacy. They’re real-world solutions to our biggest energy challenges being pursued by the one entity tasked with creating the strongest possible America. Sounds like validation to me.
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.