U.S. Army Won’t Be Left in the Dark Ever Again

The Army has a three-step plan to make sure its bases never go dark again.

Aug 23, 2014 at 10:26AM

Energy security is a priority for the U.S. Army, as many of its installations are at the end of the power line. These bases stand to lower power if anything happens to the electric grid. This has been an increasing concern for the Army, which has seen a four-fold increase in power disruptions over the last decade. There is also a real worry that cyberthreats to the power grid could impact the Army's ability to keep its bases up and running. In the face of these threats, the Army is enacting a three-step program of on-site renewable generation, microgrids, and energy storage to help ensure its bases never go dark again.

Sunlight keeps the Army from going dark
The Army has found that putting power on its bases relieves the stress on transmission lines and improves energy security at the installation. The one power source found to be critical in improving base security is solar. Most Army bases typically have large buffer zones that can be turned into power sources by having solar panels installed. 

One example of how the Army is using solar can be found in Georgia. Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE:SO), is installing 30-megawatt solar photovoltaic arrays at three Army bases in what is called the Georgia 3x30 project. Once complete, the project will bring the Army 9% closer to its goal to deploy one gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025, and it will supply 18% of the Army's energy needs in Georgia. Overall, the Army expects to complete more than 500 new solar projects in the coming years as it brings the power it needs on-site.

Solar Microgrid

Solar microgrid project at Fort Hunter Liggett in California. Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Flickr page.

Microgrids keep critical infrastructure running
The Army sees microgrids as the second phase of its energy security plan, as these allow it to distribute power to its most critical infrastructure first. Microgrids give the Army much more control over how energy is distributed throughout its bases.

One example is at Fort Bliss, Texas. The microgrid, which was installed by Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), integrates renewable energy, local power, energy storage, and load management to all but guarantee that the critical operations of the base will have uninterrupted power even in bad weather conditions.

Tactical Microgrid

Tactical microgrid. Sources: Flickr/U.S. Army RDECOM.

Energy storage enhances base security
The third phase of the Army's energy security plan is energy storage. This lowers the cost of energy and maintains a steady stream of energy. These systems also store energy to help the Army meet peak demand periods.

Fort Bliss is again a great example of how the Army is using energy storage. Not only does the base have on-site backup power generation provided by diesel generators to go along a 120-kilowatt solar array, but it also houses a 300-kilowatt energy storage system. One component, supplied by a subcontractor of Lockheed Martin, consists of a 20-foot containerized system that includes a 100-kilowatt grid-tied inverter and a number of advanced lead-acid batteries.

Lockheed Martin is working on three future energy storage technologies: next-generation Li-ion batteries, supercapacitors, and flow batteries. Its next generation Li-ion batteries have more capacity and are lighter in weight, while supercapacitors charge fast and last for an extended period, and flow batteries can store hours of power. These technologies have the potential to be an important part of the Army's future energy storage solutions. They also have possibilities in transportation, renewable energy, and consumer electronics, which could make the grid as a whole much more stable.

Final thoughts
The Army's three-phase plan to improve its energy security will go a long way toward ensuring the critical operations of its installations never go dark again. That's increasingly important in a world where cyberattacks on the power grid are a growing concern. By securing its bases now, the Army won't be hampered in its ability to defend the nation if the grid goes down. 

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Matt DiLallo owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Southern Company. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Lockheed Martin. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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