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

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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Tina 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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