Clean Power military tests new SPIDERS microgrid with renewable energy

Published on February 12th, 2013 | by Tina Casey

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In First Test, U.S. Military’s SPIDERS Microgrid Uses 90% Renewable Energy

February 12th, 2013 by  

With expectation for tonight’s State of the Union address running high, you can get a preview of the future energy landscape of the U.S. by checking out the new SPIDERS renewable energy microgrid project. SPIDERS, which has the eventual aim of widespread adoption in the civilian sector, is designed to keep critical military facilities in operation in case of grid outages while inserting a healthy dose of clean, locally sourced energy into the picture.

DoD has been emerging as a renewable energy powerhouse, and that’s something to keep in mind as President Obama is expected to call for hardcore action on climate change in his State of the Union address.

military tests new SPIDERS microgrid with renewable energy

The SPIDERS Microgrid Project

SPIDERS is a $30 million project lead by Sandia National Laboratories, under a partnership between the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy that involves numerous other federal laboratories, agencies and military commands.

SPIDERS stands for Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security, and one thing it clearly demonstrates is that the “drill baby, drill” framework is a rather primitive response to the national security challenges of today

One major challenge the project will address is to transition military bases out of over-reliance on diesel-powered backup generators, and into a hybrid system that integrates solar power, hydrogen fuel cells and other on site or local sources along with advance energy storage.

Aside from global warming issues, diesel generators are prone to failure and they can be problematic in case of widespread, prolonged grid outages, when fuel transportation routes are cut off (for more on that, see the storm-inspired fuel crisis after Sandy hit the East Coast).

SPIDERS will also help transition bases from an inefficient model in which each building can only use its own back-up generator, to an integrated, basewide microgrid in which energy can be directed wherever it’s needed. In addition to providing more security, the microgrid approach is far more efficient in terms of matching the supply of energy to a building’s actual usage.

“Crawl, Walk, Run” to Renewable Energy Microgrids

SPIDERS is being implemented in three stages, and our friends over at the DoD Energy Blog just tipped us off that the first stage has undergone its first public test, at Joint Base Pearl-Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

The Hickam project integrated several renewable assets that were already on the base, namely a 146 kW solar system and up to 50 kW of wind power.

According to a report last week by the Ho’okele News, the test took place at the end of January. It was designed to gather data related to the cyber-security of microgrids, in addition to the integration of renewable energy and energy storage.

Dan Nolan at the DOD Energy Blog noted that the flow battery storage component of the system did not perform as expected, but other than that the demonstration seemed to go well. During one part of the test, Ho’okele News reported that 90 percent of the electricity was generated by renewable sources.

Aside from helping to resolve security issues and reducing the use of fossil fuels, the new microgrid will save Hickam about $43,000 per year.

That’s just the beginning, by the way. The walking and running phases of the overall SPIDERS project are much larger and more complex.

Next up is Fort Carson, which will integrate a whopping two megawatts of solar power along with an electric vehicle-to-grid component.


The third phase, which is scheduled through 2014, involves a 5 megawatt microgrid at Camp H.M.Smith, which will rely on a combination of solar power and diesel generators.

The State of the Union and Climate Change

If President Obama meets the expectations for forceful action on climate change in tonight’s speech, there is plenty of room for a broad appeal across party lines.

The increasing use of renewable energy in overseas combat zones as well as at domestic bases has propelled the familiar “Support Our Troops” message into a new energy future, to say nothing of the green jobs (including green jobs for veterans), benefits to local economies, and improved public health resulting from a transition to safer, cleaner fuels.

Okay, so maybe Ted Nugent won’t get it…

Note: We were asked to clarify the participants in SPIDERS, so here is the description from Sandia’s website: “SPIDERS…is based on a Joint Command Technology Development (JCTD) project between Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security.”

Image: Spider by snowpeak

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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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  • sakusakusakura_nyo

    So this has nothing to do with spiders. The headline makes it sound like the spiders are making renewable energy for us somehow.

    • it’s just the acronym for “Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security”

  • Steeple

    I think most people support the US govt investing in smaller experimental projects such as this, particularly when talking about remote bases that are difficult to resupply. Or places like Hawaii where they still have to burn oil to generate power. What the Feds need to stay out of is the subsidization of large scale production when the economics are poor; no point in upsizing something that doesn’t work in the real world. And it sours any appetite to experiment on a smaller scale like this.

    • Most of the population disagrees with you. So, the federal government (of, by, and for the people) is actually doing what has been requested.

      Why the population is correct:

      1- we pay trillions of dollars in the way of medical bills created by polluting energy sources. if we’re not going to price those correctly, we may as well try to even the playing field a little by incentivizing clean energy.

      2- federal government investments have helped to bring down the cost of renewables. the cost of solar has been reduced about 45% in the past few years. wind has also seen major price drops. mass production and deployment brings down costs.

      3- every energy industry has received massive support from the federal government. why should clean energy industries be any different?

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