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“Magic” Military Microgrid Spells More Bad News For Diesel (#CleanTechnica Interview)

Despite all the fossil friendly rhetoric emanating from the White House, the US Department of Defense is still pursuing microgrids with renewable energy.

The US Army is not particularly shy about adopting the latest high-tech gadgets, and renewable energy is a case in point. Despite all the fossil friendly rhetoric emanating from the White House, the Army is still pursuing microgrids with renewable energy to improve operations and cut costs at its domestic bases here in the US and at forward operating bases overseas, too.

That’s improving operations as compared to relying on diesel generators for back-up power and transportable power generation, by the way.

The latest development in the forward operating base category is a new contract with the microgrid company Go Electric, to develop a “portable, modular, self-forming microgrid solution” that can withstand whatever punishment the US Africa Command can dish out while maximizing fuel efficiently and improving reliability over diesel generators. Sounds like magic, right?

The Return Of The SPIDERS Microgrid

Well, it’s not magic. Just a lot of elbow grease and years of R&D.

If the name Go Electric rings any bells, you may be thinking of the company’s role in the cutting edge SPIDERS microgrid project.

SPIDERS stands for Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security. It’s a three-phase, $30 million project under the umbrella of the US Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories. The aim is to deploy microgrids with renewable energy as a more efficient, more reliable, and more secure replacement for conventional diesel generators.

The SPIDERS project crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2013, when Sandia offered up a blistering critique of the Army’s diesel habit:

Currently, when power is disrupted at a military base, individual buildings switch to backup diesel generators, but that approach has several limitations. Generators might fail to start, and if a building’s backup power system doesn’t start, there is no way to use power from another building’s generator. Most generators are oversized for the load and run at less-than-optimal capacity, and excess fuel is consumed. Furthermore, safety requirements state that all renewable energy sources on base must disconnect when off-site power is lost.


The shortcomings of diesel are even more concerning at forward operating bases. Diesel generators into supply chain issues related to repairs and refueling. The costs can be high and the consequences can be deadly for US troops and support personnel tasked with ferrying supplies and fuel along hostile roads.

More And Better Microgrids

Go Electric hooked up with SPIDERS in 2016, making it the only new vendor to participate in the critical third phase of the project. Go Electric won the precious slot on the basis of its AutoLYNC® microgrid controls technology.

Go Electric already has several other projects up and running. In 2017 the company won a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a microgrid with AutoLYNC, which can do all of this (break added for readability):

…provide supply-side energy management by integrating multiple energy sources-including engine-driven generators, renewable energy assets and host-nation/shore power with battery energy storage into a self-forming microgrid.

The system will seamlessly integrate, manage and optimize all 50 or 60 Hz AC sources such as commercial and military generators to include AMMPS/DSC synchronizing generators and non-synchronizing TQG generators.

Got all that?

Microgrids For The Army, Microgrids For The Rest Of Us

The latest contract, announced just last week, builds on the Army Corps of Engineers project. The idea is to develop a mobile version of the Go Electric microgrid with the AutoLYNC controller, and engineer it to handle tough environments and adapt to whatever energy inputs are available in different locations:

The mobile microgrid will provide stable, clean power to forward operating, deployed units while maximizing fuel efficiency and providing enhanced power reliability. The system will integrate host nation power, disparate generators—both fuel driven and renewable, and energy storage to deliver clean, efficient power at all times.

Hmmm, sounds like something everyone can use. CleanTechnica asked Go Electric CEO Lisa Laughner for her views on how the military’s interest in microgrids is helping to push microgrid adoption in the private sector. She provided this answer by email:

Historically, the military has been a first adopter for microgrid deployments based on its need to ensure 100 percent uptime despite increasing grid instability caused by infrastructure degradation, natural disasters and cyber threats.

The civilian sector has much to gain by following the military’s lead – many critical, commercial and industrial facilities can’t afford to lose power for even a second.

Hospital and data center power interruptions can result in devastating consequences for communities while commercial facilities like industrial manufacturers and grocery stores can face millions of dollars in losses from just a short outage.

Facility managers should leverage lessons learned from military leaders and other early adopters that are future-proofing their operations by investing in energy resiliency.

Trump* Or No Trump, US Department Hearts Microgrids And Renewables

Ms. Laughner also echoed the sentiments of the numerous Department of Defense officials who continue to advocate for clean energy, microgrids and other clean tech on the basis of national security:

The Department of Defense is increasing its adoption of renewable energy and new energy technologies for their ability to provide self-sustaining, resilient and efficient power for military operations.

In part, this transition stems from a desire to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels that are costly and inefficient – especially in field deployments.

The patented AutoLYNC microgrid controller embedded in our LYNC Secure system prioritizes energy security and resiliency by optimizing all on-site assets to provide reliable power regardless of the source. Our military customers utilize any combination of solar, wind, storage, diesel generators and other on-site assets to keep mission-critical facilities running efficiently at all times.

Go Electric’s AutoLYNC control system is sure going to get a workout from the US Africa Command. The sprawling division of DoD includes ground, sea and air forces (US Army Africa, US Naval Forces Africa, and US Air Forces Africa) as well as US Marine Corps Forces Africa, US Special Operations Command Africa, and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which is this:

In the Horn of Africa, CJTF-HOA is the U.S. Africa Command organization that conducts operations in the region to enhance partner nation capacity, promote regional security and stability, dissuade conflict, and protect U.S. and coalition interests. CJTF-HOA is critical to U.S. AFRICOM’s efforts to build partner capacity to counter violent extremists and address other regional security partnerships.

What was that again about intermittent energy sources being second rate?

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: via Go Electric.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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