An energy microgrid for the Army

Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) are working with the U.S. Army on an energy surety model. This microgrid system will use small power generation units and renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. The goal is to reach a 99.999% availability level (5 minutes out/year) at the lowest possible cost.

Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) are working with the U.S. Army on an energy surety model which soon will be tested by military bases. Instead on relying on today's grid electricity system, this microgrid system will use small power generation units close to where people live and work. And it will use renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. The goal is to reach a 99.999% availability level for buildings without backup (5 minutes out/year) at the lowest possible cost. Once this concept is operational at an undisclosed military base, the researchers think the technology could be deployed for ordinary people.

Here is an introduction from the SNL news release.

A Sandia National Laboratories research team headed by Dave Menicucci has taken a Labs-developed energy surety model to a tangible level by applying it to military bases.
"In today's grid system, power generators [coal, nuclear, gas] are located far from the load -- the place where people live, work, and use power," Menicucci says. "This requires much distributed wiring and has a potential for power disruption."

This makes sense, but what exactly means energy "surety?" Here is the answer provided by a paper written by Menicucci and his colleagues, Energy Surety for Mission Readiness (PDF format, 3 pages, 88 KB).

Energy "surety" is a term that has been derived from defense applications and is being used here to characterize energy systems. It incorporates a variety of factors including security, reliability, safety, sustainability and cost effectiveness. An energy system is said to have high levels of "surety" if it delivers the energy product to the end user while meeting all of the surety elements.

Here is how would like such a distributed network for energy surety (Credit: Dave Menicucci, SNL). This illustration has been extracted from another Menicucci's presentation, New Concepts for Improving New Concepts for Improving Energy Surety in Energy Surety in Military Facilities Military Facilities (PDF format, 30 pages, 832 KB).

The energy surety approach

And the diagram below describes how this concept would be applied to military bases: "The energy surety microgrid for military bases would be an energy system that uses more small generation units and storage near where people live, work, and use power and less reliance on big remote plants (Credit: Tom Salazar, for SNL).

The energy surety microgrid

Now, let's return to the SNL news release mentioned above to discover the differences between the current energy distribution system and the microgrid approach.

Energy systems with high levels of energy surety must be safe -- safely supplying energy to end users; secure -- using diversified energy sources; reliable -- maintaining power when and where needed; sustainable -- being able to be maintained indefinitely ("indefinite" is based on the American Indian definition of seven generations or 200 years); and cost-effective -- producing energy at an acceptable (and preferably lowest) cost.

Obviously, the researchers think that the current grid system doesn't meet all these criteria, while the microgrid concept meets them all.

It is safe -- it's not introducing any new dangers. It's secure because it uses a diverse mix of fuels -- solar, wind, and oil. It's reliable because it uses a variety of types of generators. There is a redundancy of generation and storage. It's sustainable because it is using renewable energies. And, it is cost-effective because it uses energy sources that are readily available and appropriate for the site. (An example is that solar could be used in the Southwest and wind along the nation's coastlines.)

So that's the theory. Now, the concept needs to be tested. It should be done on an unknown military base in the beginning of 2007. And if all goes well, some civilian communities might benefit from this technology in a few years.

Sources: Sandia National Laboratories news release, via EurekAlert!, July 11, 2006; and various web sites

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