Pentagon looks to renewables and smart grids for security

Included are hot water heaters and car park lighting powered by solar energy as well as additional solar panels installed on rooftops. Energy will also be captured from landfill gases.

According to Randy Monohan, utilities and energy manager at the base, energy consumption will be reduced by almost 80 percent by 2015. The goal is to get Miramar to ‘net-zero’ energy usage.

Officials at the Department of Defence eventually want all military installations to generate as much energy as they consume. Net-zero military bases are more secure in the eyes of the Pentagon. Military leaders have always been concerned about how a disruption to the country’s power grid would affect a war-fighting mission. Creating self-sufficient military bases dependent only on renewable power would eliminate these fears.

“We are methodically going through and figuring out where we can island,” wrote Gueta Mezzetti, co-chairman of the Defence Science Board task force on energy, in a 2008 report. The task force concluded that critical military and homeland defence installation were vulnerable to disruptions of the nation’s power grid.

Mezzetti spoke to energy industry officials at the GovEnergy conference held in Rhode Island last week. She said she could not over emphasise “the gravity of the issue.” Steven White, energy program manager at the Homeland Security Department was also concerned and said that transmission lines that deliver electricity to residential consumers are most vulnerable to external attacks.

“An individual with $10 can take out a large area of distribution and go largely unnoticed,” said White at the GovEnergy conference.

Mezzetti also spoke of the need for self-contained smart grids at military facilities. Currently, the military and other federal facilities depend upon data provided by utility companies to determine the status and health of their power supply. Mezzetti said that utilities don’t really have a clear grasp of the flow of electricity within their network.

Creating self-contained smart grids where a generator derives energy from solar arrays, fuel cells, or other renewable sources to supply the bases would make the military installations self-sufficient outside of the public grid. Grid operators would be able to quickly switch the grid on should disruptions occur with the public grid.

“A good solution is a smart micro-grid,” said Bob Westby, a program manager at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. The lab is conducting a feasibility study of a smart micro-grid system at Miramar.

Some experts believe that a smart grid could create other security risks. Power generators at a military base could become targets for attacks as well. “There is a recognition that a smart grid is a less secure grid because you have more digital points of entry,” said Mezzetti.

The Pentagon has set a goal to obtain 25 percent of its energy needs from renewable power by 2025. Similarly, the federal government has set a goal of 7.5 percent by 2013.