Microgrids USS Zumwalt all-electric destroyer

Published on November 5th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Navy’s New “All-Electric” Destroyer Is A Seagoing Microgrid

November 5th, 2013 by  

We were just taking note of the US Navy’s focus on stationary, portable, and even wearable microgrids when along comes a doozy of an example in the form of the USS Zumwalt DDG 1000. The newly launched high-tech destroyer has been dubbed the Navy’s first “all-electric” ship, but not because you can plug it into a wall socket. The Zumwalt’s distinctive feature is a fully integrated power system that both generates and distributes electrical energy everywhere in the ship, including the propulsion system as well as weaponry and support services.

A Floating Microgrid For The US Navy

The actual power source of the Zumwalt is a 78 megawatt array of four gas-turbine generators, but that’s the extent of the role of internal combustion engines on the ship. Here’s a rundown provided by our friends at the technology association IEEE:

…the Zumwalt’s propellers and drive shafts are turned by electric motors, rather than being directly attached to combustion engines. Such electric-drive systems, while a rarity for the U.S. Navy, have long been standard on big ships. What’s new and different about the one on the Zumwalt is that it’s flexible enough to propel the ship, fire railguns or directed-energy weapons (should these eventually be deployed), or both at the same time.

USS Zumwalt all-electric destroyer

Launch of the USS Zumwalt courtesy of US Navy.

Speaking of railguns, another energy-intensive weapon system that could come into play is the Navy’s new laser weapons system (LaWS). Earlier this year we took note of an article about LaWS from the Office of Naval Research, which makes the case that ships with integrated all-electric power systems are essential to future force effectiveness, given the transition to energy-based forms of weaponry.

Here’s the money quote:

As the technology advances, and faced with rising and unpredictable fossil fuel costs, the Navy’s next-generation surface combatant ship will leverage electric ship technologies in its design. While electric ships already exist, design characteristics of a combatant ship are more complex with regard to weight, speed, maneuverability—and now, directed energy weapons.

For the record, the Zumwalt isn’t quite ready for prime time yet. The launch took place on October 28 at almost 90 percent completion, so there’s more work to be done before it’s fully operational. The Navy expects to have initial shakedowns completed by 2016.

The Zumwalt And You

If you were thinking that “all-electric” ship meant a battery-powered vessel that could potentially be charged from diverse renewable sources, the whole gas-turbine thing is a bit of a letdown.

Since the Zumwalt has just one original fuel source, from that perspective it’s not as advanced in future fuels as the Navy’s new SPIDERS microgrid for land based facilities, which can integrate both renewable energy and fossil fuels. The same goes for the wearable MAPS microgrid, which incorporates a battery that can be recharged from multiple sources.

However, given the Navy’s hand-over-fist pursuit of biofuels, the Zumwalt does open the door to the use of renewable biogas, so that’s something.

More to the point, the development of the Zumwalt and its two planned sister ships involves future electrical systems and energy efficiency improvements that could find application in the next generation of civilian electric vehicles, in addition to the potential for integrating advanced, multi-sourced energy storage systems in military vessels and vehicles.

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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+.

  • D Rant

    Too bad Tina doesn’t know the difference between an internal combustion engine and a turbine.

    • A Real Libertarian

      Gas turbines are a type of internal combustion engine.

  • Gonzo

    Sissy ship like Obama?

  • abinico

    Yet another tool in the capitalist arsenal for raping third world countries of their natural wealth.

    • Gus Mueller

      If rape be the engine of capitalism, then rape on.

  • jfreed27

    Reminds me of the Chevy Volt. Fossil fuels charge batteries. And nat gas is better, emissions wise, than diesel or gasoline.

    • Emmanuel Truthseeker

      The armed forces are becoming environmentally conscious? Next they’ll come up with bombs that don’t leave a mess? Already the man/woman power is biodegradable, next it will the weapons and uniforms; all of it biodegradable; just as video game characters when killed, eventually dissolve into nether land and disappear into an ocean of artifacts. War becomes cleaner and easier to take that way.

      • Bob_Wallace

        The US military has made it quite clear that they see climate change as a major danger for the United States and as part of their role of defending the country they need to provide leadership in getting the US off fossil fuels and minimizing global warming.

        Decreasing supplies of petroleum is another danger that the military has acknowledged. Because of this, and climate change, the military is looking for alternative ways and more efficient ways to fuel their missions.

        If you don’t like war, blame the leaders of countries. It’s not the militaries that start most wars. They just get handed the dirty work when our leaders fail to solve problems in a peaceful manner.

        • A Real Libertarian

          It’s always the old to lead us to the war.

          It’s always the young to fall.

        • Emmanuel Truthseeker

          The military has weaponized weather now.

          The military controls the food for the USA; the FDA is a navy branch.

          ‘Free’ electricity distribution was invented and patented by Nikola Tesla, may his memory live for eternity.

          The earth generates electricity because it is a Van der Graf generator.

          Cannabis hemp can provide a clean burning, far more efficient gasoline and engine oil; at a fraction of the present cost of the NOT FOSSIL FUEL oil which the planet produces as a coagulant to help counter balance wobble and is not meant for burning.

  • Bravodelta49

    “There is a powerful agent, obedient, rapid, easy, which conforms to every use, and reigns supreme on board my vessel. Everything is done by means of it. It lights, warms it, and is the soul of my mechanical apparatus. This agent is electricity.” – “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, 1870.

    • TinaCasey

      tx for referencing one of my favorite books of all time.

  • anderlan

    Tina left it for us to mention that this futuristic ship is commanded by USN Captain James Kirk, who can officially stop applying for rank promotions (unless he can go straight to Admiral).

    • TinaCasey

      Yeah…saw that…must have been written in the stars.

      • anderlan

        groan 🙂

  • JamesWimberley

    The stealthy superstructure of the USN Zumwalt is curiously reminiscent of the USS Merrimack (CSS Virginia), the losing ironclad at the naval battle of Hampton Roads in 1862.

  • ThomasGerke

    Isn’t the Type 212 submarine still kinda cooler in terms of the “future ready” energy systems deployed on a military vessel?

    I mean hydrogen fuel cells that allow 3 weeks of non-stop really really silent running without significant traceable emissions (heat, …).

    It’s in essence a diesel-hydrogen-battery electric hybrid vehicle… which is already completely renewable fuel compatible. 😉

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