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In the first six months of 2011, the US civilian power grid suffered 155 blackouts affecting an average of 83,000 people with 36 blackouts affecting over 100,000 people. Despite these staggering numbers, US military bases rely solely on the civilian grid to power 99% of their war fighting capabilities, homeland security missions, and rescue and relief operations. This paper analyzes the Department of Defense’s current efforts to increase energy efficiency and assurance and makes recommendations on the policy options available to the DOD to increase the incorporation of smart microgrids onto its military installations.
A Microgrid is a small localized version of the Smart Grid. It increases energy efficiency by regulating demand and allows for better incorporation of renewable energy sources. During a power outage, a microgrid will disconnect itself from the civilian power grid and turn on an installation’s generators to ensure electricity availability to a base’s critical loads. By prioritizing loads during an emergency, a microgrid will drastically decrease the need for fuel resupplies during a civilian power grid failure. Microgrids also have the potential for deployment in war zones where power supplies are even less secure.
Despite the benefits of microgrids, the DOD, as well as legislation and executive orders, has focused on less efficient energy alternatives. The Environmental Conservation Investment Program, one of the principle funding mechanisms to fund conservation efforts in the DOD, rarely invests in microgrids and focuses too much on less cost efficient projects. Further, the DOD’s Net Zero Energy Installation Initiative does little to increase energy assurance at military installations. By focusing too much on renewable energy generation, legislation and executive orders have decreased the available funds for microgrids, which if installed before a renewable energy project, can increase its viability.
The Defense Science Board (DSB) has published two reports urging the DOD to decrease its energy costs and better secure its energy supply to bases. However, the development of microgrids, despite their cost effectiveness and impact on energy assurance, remains slow and infrequent. To increase national security and decrease the department’s energy expenditures, the DOD should enact changes to its investment programs to give more consideration to microgrids and pursue special appropriations from Congress for the widespread deployment of microgrids. The benefit of this two-pronged approach is that it allows the DOD to follow a short-term zero cost solution while it waits for the necessary appropriation from Congress to solve the Defense Department’s energy problems.