Today’s grid is becoming more digitized with information technology, helping to make the transition to renewable energy a relatively smooth process.
Despite this, significant challenges — including blackouts, natural disasters, and cyber attacks — doe pose high risks to the grid.
Microgrids can play a role in limiting these problems. According to a report from Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews by a team of Michigan Tech University energy policy analysts and engineers, the US military would need to put down 17 gigawatts (GW) worth of solar photovoltaic (PV) to shore up their domestic bases. The analysis also suggests that, economically, it’s good to do this.
Emily Prehoda, a Michigan Technical University student who is finishing her Ph.D. in energy policy, stressed the importance of how the military links policies and technical accommodations, watching it flow down to other vital services and infrastructure projects.
“This is such a huge issue, not only for the military but for other organizations, and it hits from all different sides, from the technical, economic and social—and it leads back to the idea of security,” said Prehoda to Michigan Tech News.
Co-author Joshua Pearce said despite progress made by the US military on renewable energy (targeting 25% of its energy production within 8 years as the Army ramps up its solar goals), more work is required on military power systems that are using generators, which are at a higher risk of cutoff. Currently, 27 of the more than 400 domestic military bases have plans in motion for PV microgrids or now have them.
Microgrids are becoming a strong focus point to mitigate energy risks from various sources, including natural disasters — a headache for electricity planners, with an average cost from $18 to $33 billion a year (just in terms of power outages and infrastructure damages). As the climate warms, expect further costs to rise, and further stress on the electricity system.
Cyber security risks have also become a bigger threat to the grid.
In 2013, the “Dragonfly incident” showed how vulnerable our networks could be in the digital age. Hackers infected a website from a French cleantech company, which affected consumers while cracking into industrial systems.
Solar microgrids give a tremendous opportunity to limit the concerns of cyber security problems, blackouts, and extreme weather events.
Researchers analyzed domestic military bases across current electrical loads. Afterward, the team looked at current and projected PV-powered microgrids with earlier grid deficiencies, plus probable solar energy in every state. A total of 2,140 GW would be required to fulfill critical infrastructure, with 100% solar energy mixed into a microgrid system with storage tied in. US military systems alone would need 17 GW of solar.
The report then reviewed the economics & technical aspects of hiring “top 20 contractors” who work with the US Department of Defense. A case study within the report investigated three businesses (Bechtel, General-Electric, & Lockheed Martin) with regards to potential resources and technical skills. What they found was that it’s possible to meet grid flexibility and deploy microgrids.
Ph.D. advisor Chelsea Schelly suggests it’s good for the military to support microgrid deployment as a national security policy.
“If we recognize that this capacity already exists, then we can start thinking about PV as a security measure by integrating microgrids — and then creating local resilience based on military technologies,” said Schelly to Michigan Tech News.
The paper also looked at how supporting military microgrids could seep down into other points of infrastructure. Military-based microgrid technology could help ramp microgrids at other governmental departments, organizations, hospitals, businesses, and homes, according to the report.
You can expect microgrids to flourish in the future. By 2022, the global microgrid market will reach nearly $39 billion, according to Markets & Markets.
In 2016, US solar installations were 14.76 GW, almost doubling (a 97% increase over) 2015 installations. Given all the challenges of meeting higher demands from increased use of electronic devices while mitigating blackout, climate change, and cyber security concerns, the US military has a tremendous opportunity to lead the deployment in solar microgrid development at home for exactly those benefits.