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February 6, 2016

Microgrids: How the U.S. Military Can Benefit

The rise of microgrids — small, site-specific electrical power generation and distribution systems — has been documented among homeowners in disaster-prone areas and noticed by the companies that run the big grids. Nationwide, microgrids produce only about a gigawatt of power collectively, reports say, and many of those projects are by homeowners and institutions such as colleges. But there also another potentially big American player: the Defense Department.

A new analysis released by Red Mountain Insights notes that the military moves a lot of fossil fuel around to generate electricity at its far-flung facilities. “The fuel powers more than 15,000 generators in Afghanistan alone,” the research firm says. “What if, through use of Microgrid technologies, the military could cut that fuel transportation and use in half?”

Microgrid use is already gaining momentum in the department, Red Mountain says:

The Department of Defense is already working on establishing a network of independent microgrids that integrate distributed renewable generation, electric vehicles, and demand response at its bases. The growth potential for military microgrid market is anticipated to result in upwards of 54.8 megawatts total capacity by 2018.

According to the Secretary of Defense, 40+ DoD military bases either have operating microgrids, planned microgrids, or have conducted studies of microgrid technologies. The DoD also has 600 forward operating bases (FOBs) and is investigating the deployment of mobile microgrids in Afghanistan.

(The U.S. Capitol Power Plant, by the way, doesn’t really qualify as serving a microgrid — it stopped supplying electricity decades ago, and now is used to generate steam and chilled water for heating and cooling.)

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