How the Pentagon is arming energy storage

The US military renewable energy commitments makes the Pentagon hugely important to the energy storage industry. Photo credit: Phantom Eye drone, Boeing

US military energy storage budgets are huge, as are the Pentagon’s renewable energy commitments. Photo credit: liquid-hydrogen powered Phantom Eye drone, Boeing

The US military outspends all other armed forces on the planet, combined. Some of its budget is hidden from the public in the form of ‘black projects’ and the profits certain contractors reap from involvement in unnecessary and irrelevant weapons systems projects are surely a cause for concern.

But if you were expecting an article bashing the US military, look elsewhere. Because the Pentagon is indisputably A Force For Good in the world of energy storage, through its massive commitment to renewable energy. The US military is going tree-hugger, big time, and there are three main reasons for this green-and-khaki soldiering.

The first is policy led, as the military has committed to various ambitious targets in renewables. Next is what might be described as strategic autonomy and resilience: military bases having their own ability to generate, control and use power. Third is battlefield autonomy, where soldiers use portable energy generation and storage to disconnect themselves from any reliance on encumbering supply chains.

Net Zero and other hard targets

The US Department of Defense (DoD) wants to obtain a quarter of its energy from renewables by 2025. And as the nation’s single biggest consumer of energy, you would think that was ambitious enough. But the air force, marines and navy have upped the ante by pledging to reduce fossil energy use 50% by 2020. In addition, the army has signed up to Net Zero energy, water and waste.

Net Zero for energy means that in the course of a year an installation will have saved, recovered and generated enough energy to compensate for its entire consumption. The army’s goal is to have 25 Net Zero installations by 2030 and to use 25% renewable energy by 2015.

Energy storage and production makes a lot of sense for the military. As The Washington Postreported, 80% of the Pentagon’s energy still comes from oil and even minor fluctuations in the price of crude have big budgetary effects. So much so that a one-dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil adds more than USD$30m a year to the cost incurred by the US navy alone.

Microgrids, maximum security

While uncertainties about an escalating oil price are a strategic threat to military economics, attacks on convoys in enemy or contested territory such as Afghanistan are much more immediate and existential in nature. If you can conquer military bases’ addiction to oil, you remove a key weak point in its defence.

Meanwhile, back in the homeland, there is a clear and present danger of the sort of grid outages that are increasingly affecting the US. The traditional approach to this is the diesel generator, which is, of course, dependent on oil supplies getting delivered. How much better to have the off-grid option backed by renewables, smart grids and energy storage?

Perhaps no wonder, then, that as early as 2012 over half the microgrid projects in the US were military installations. That year, the Department’s microgrid capacity more than doubled, to 578MW, from 228MW in 2011. One such initiative, announced just under a year ago, is SPIDERS (Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security)

This has been designed to transition military microgrids to something that the DoD can use practically to reduce reliance on both the external grid and diesel generators. Of course, energy storage is a key component of an independent microgrid and suppliers have been quick to provide the required kit.

A recent example was Eagle Pitcher’s sale of rechargeable batteries to Erigo Technologies, which in turn supplied a three-tiered, 300kW/386kWh energy storage system capable of providing grid stabilisation, microgrid support and on-command power response. The Battery Energy Storage System was bought by the US Corp of Engineers on behalf of the US Northern Command.

It will undergo testing and evaluation at the Department of Energy’s Energy System Integration Facility, on the campus of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Mobility and the military microgrid

As we’ve discussed before, microgrid batteries need not be stationary. Plug-in electric vehicles are increasing being put through their paces by the military. Mobile batteries and infrastructure are being tested, too.

For example, five completely novel bi-directional vehicle chargers were successfully tested at Fort Carson, Colorado as part of the SPIDERS programme. They are designed to allow vehicles to charge a microgrid as well as getting a top-up from it. Importantly, according to Navigant Research at least, the DoD will buy more than 92,400 electric vehicles between 2013 and 2020.

As owner of the world’s biggest fleet of vehicles, the Pentagon is in pole position to help give this market’s innovation the economies of scale it needs to flourish, as well as drive down the total cost of ownership of electric vehicles. But the military isn’t just looking at battery-based energy storage to solve its challenges.

Mere days ago it was reported that the liquid-hydrogen powered Phantom Eye drone, manufactured by Boeing, flew for over five hours, a record for the prototype unmanned aircraft.

Energy storage in combat

The final area where energy storage is aiding the Pentagon’s electric warriors is where is gets deadly serious: on the front line. Hi-tech warfare is totally dependent on getting reliable electricity where its needed most, to power navigation, computers, flashlights, night sights and, of course, communications equipment.

Flux Power is one of the many companies supplying this type of portable energy storage, recently selling its advanced 4.1KWh, 24V portable lithium-ion power packs to HDT Global for inclusion in the latter’s solar energy solution for the military.

Only in America?

Outside the US, it’s clear that other military forces around the globe are supporting energy storage. Take Canada, for example, where last year the government supported Panacis to accelerate the commercialisation of a lithium-ion battery system targeting the defence market. The SharePack weighs just 1kg, a vast improvement on the average 7kg carried by soldiers in the field.

As the need for flexibility, resilience and autonomy in power provision becomes increasingly clear to the top brass worldwide, the energy storage sector is ideally placed to take advantage of a vast and varied market in which to sell.

Written by Mike Stone

One thought on “How the Pentagon is arming energy storage

  1. Mobile micro grids can be used in environmental events like Sandy storm, Units stored in regional military bases could be temporarily moved to the storm area to aid in recovery. In a few years the Smart Grid will be able to manage small generators of energy.

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