Energy security — military and civilian

Army microgrid. (Image from U.S. Army RDECOM)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The Department of Defense (DoD) is the nation’s single-largest consumer of energy. It has a set goal of obtaining 25 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025. This goal sets up a large, sustained market for renewable energy that is likely to lead to a continuing drop in the cost of such systems as the scale of manufacturing increases.

The goal is in response to increased global demand for finite fossil fuels and the adverse impacts of climate change. Diversifying our sources of energy and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, especially oil, is seen as critical to energy security.

In addressing its own energy needs, the DoD sees its role as continuing as a technological innovator, early adopter of actions that will benefit the nation as a whole. A dramatic example is its early support of computers and the development of the Internet and their eventual widespread integration into society.

An ongoing military effort has been directed at energy use in the field. For example, in Iraq, only 10 percent of ground fuel was used to deliver lethal force via tanks, armored vehicles and amphibious vehicles. The other 90 percent of the fuel was consumed by vehicles that deliver and protect the fuel and forces involved. Increased fuel efficiency and the use of hybrid vehicles could significantly lessen fuel demand.

The same fuel serves to power generators that provide electricity to communication systems, administrative areas and living quarters. Increasing the efficiency of energy use is the fastest route to reduced consumption and risk. Substituting renewable energy sources can also reduce fuel use.

Another focus has been to transform its use of energy at multiple military installations through the use of energy efficiency, smart-grid technologies, the electrification of its vehicle fleet, and the use of distributed and renewable energy.

The DoD has portrayed the nation’s electricity grid as outdated, vulnerable to disruptions and a weak link in our national energy security. DoD has done pioneering work by installing microgrid infrastructures at multiple military bases. They provide power independently of traditional electrical grids, and integrate multiple sources of energy for use and storage .

The microgrid concept is making its presence felt in the civilian market. According to a Worldwatch Institute article, Connecticut has implemented a microgrid pilot program. Nine applicants from a diversity of important institutions were selected from more than 30 who applied to the $18 million program. Power from fossil fuels, renewable energy and fuel cells, along with battery storage, will allow the participating entities to secure continuous power without having to rely on the larger grid for support. The installations will vary in size from 50 kilowatts to 5 megawatts. Another $30 million is allocated for additional projects.

The expectation is that microgrids could expand throughout the country, adding generating capacity and stability to electrical service. They also provide a measure of energy security for local power needs. Microgrids can be owned by local businesses and individuals, reducing or eliminating their dependence on centralized utility service. Of course, utilities could invest in them as well. One is left to wonder if electrical energy security is best served by grid expansions or investments in microgrids.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Oct. 16-20, 2013, issue

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