Thursday, October 6, 2011

From Position Improvement to Energy Security: The Road to the Smart Microgrid

For those who have been tracking the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERSJoint Concept Technology Demonstration (JCTD) it has been an interesting trajectory. It started out as a very ambitious smart microgrid (or Energy Surety Microgrid as Sandia Labs, the designer, calls it) project, envisioning two simultaneous demonstrations of the technology at Hickman AFB, Hawaii and Fort Carson, Colorado. The original solicitation came out on 10 August 2011, for a firm, fixed price, best value contract for both locations, with site visits on 25 August at both locations, simultaneously. On 30 August 2011, amendment 5 to the solicitation was issued deleting the Fort Carson portion of the project. Presumably, that will be addressed in a later solicitation.

This project, in two phases, is estimated to cost $5.2M with a small business goal of 50% of the overall project cost and a period of performance of eighteen months. Although this seems like a lot of work for a big firm with only $2.6M in the return, this will be about getting there “firstest with the mostest”. The company that wins this will have a leg up on what is expected to be a $5B market.

DOD has some specified tasks it must accomplish. We have listed them before: buy biofuels, reduce energy consumption, and consume more renewable energy. In the case of installation energy, there are a number of implied tasks:

  • Develop systems that will provide the military effective countermeasures to asymmetric vulnerabilities associated with fragile grid conditions and escalating costs while building in mission assurance and energy security for installations 
  • Provide improved solutions to energy security and clean energy requirements, enable opportunity pricing and offer cooperative environments where utilities may better service military installation needs. 
  • Communications and controls that allow synchronization and load optimization
This is why DOD is, and should be, chasing the smart microgrid. In the words of one DOD senior manager, “Putting DoD as an early adopter of distributed energy management systems enables the military to help shape the standards for energy security, build business case metrics, and facilitates the adoption of alternative and renewable energy generation sources needed to better meet NetZero goals”.

In addition to the R&D effort associated with this JCTD, there are folks putting smart grids on the ground today, and in some pretty tough environments. Project Manager-Mobile Electric Power (PM-MEP) is running the Afghan Microgrid Project or AMP in Camp Sabalu-Harrison. They are receiving forward engineering support from the Research, Development and Engineering Command's Field Assistance in Science and Technology – Center, part of the 401st Army Field Support Brigade.

The team put in a one-megawatt microgrid that can replace up to 20 60-kilowatt TQGs. These Tactical Quiet Generators had been producing more than 1,300 kilowatts of power to meet a demand of less than 400 kilowatts. The situation is not atypical of spot generation in theater and, if this works, could serve as a blueprint for future operations.

Even as these R&D efforts move forward there are efforts to just be smarter in how the Services deploy energy. When units first hit the ground, every facility has its own generator. Over time, the simple process of position improvement dictates that this inefficient method be replace with some sort of mini grid. This is now being done in a significant enough effort to warrant the scrutiny of the NYT. In an article last week, Annie Snider highlighted the efforts of COL Tim Hill and the Army’s operational energy program. The system is basically just “ganging” generators together for greater efficiency, but that is a start.

At last week’s 2011 Washington Energy Summit, Dr. Dorothy Robynthe Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment said, “(The) microgrid is a triple play. It's a set of self-generated electricity and controls that allow us to operate more efficiently ... in a normal mode but [also to] facilitate the incorporation of solar, wind (and) other forms of renewable energy. And most important, if the grid goes down it will allow us to prioritize and continue to operate activities that are most critical".

It looks like the lessons from the frontline are making it back to the home front. The AMP does not appear to have integrated renewables or storage as part of its construct. Putting those into the mix would seem to be the next logical step in demonstrating the importance of the smart microgrid. From dumb, ganged minigrids to smart microgrids that provide true energy security requires government investment. Third party financing for these efforts will be challenging; tough to make the business case. The technology is mature and the results are a saving in dollars and lives in convoys and ensuring mission accomplishment at installations. Without intelligent power management, renewables are just tinkering at the margins of energy security. Dan Nolan


Anonymous said...

The SPIDERS solicitation has been a joke. The ammendments make it obious that (1) the DOD does not know what they're doing and (2) that it is being influenced to push aside the big contractors. Over 50% must now go to small business. These local small businesses in Hawaii have been shaping the solicitation and ammendments to their favor. All of the big defense contractors know that SPIDERS is a joke and is not being run as a true competitive competition.

John Howley said...

Seems like DOD is trying to do a bit too much. The technical requirements of a smart micro-grid are challenging enough. While the intent behind the small business participation rule is appreciated, how many small businesses are truly capable of participating in this project, especially when the pay-off for the contractor is not this project but the prospect of being involved when it scales up?

John Howley