Sandia LabNews

Labs energy security team works with military on grid-free bases

Sandia energy security team works to make key military bases ‘grid-free’ in the future

Dave Menicucci thinks that it was Mother Nature as terrorist who ultimately pushed the Department of Defense toward improving its energy infrastructure security. He knows September 11, 2001, had a role as well. "Prior to that date, most experts felt border security was sufficient and concern about infrastructure security at domestic military bases was minimal," Dave says. After September 11, that changed.

And then in May 2002, a fierce wildfire cut both feeder lines supplying a remote military base with power. Completely off the grid, the base went to its back-up mode. Although some facilities were equipped with diesel generators, officials soon realized the base would need more fuel for the significant amount of time needed to restore grid power. But by the time they turned attention to this problem, the generators had run out of diesel.

The result: the base was at a diminished state of readiness for 16 hours. Costs attributed to the downtime were approximately $3 million. True, this strike was from nature, but it illustrates how effective a coordinated attempt at sabotage could be.

"This really raised awareness as to how vulnerable these bases are," says Dave, project lead and staff member in Energy Infrastructure and Distributed Energy Resources Dept. 6251.

In the months since, the Army has asked Sandia to look at three pilot forts and make recommendations for an optimal mix of generating technologies to help them achieve energy security. In addition, a US Marines Corps base is also very interested in the Sandia approach, Dave reports. They want to bring their generation inside their fences and distribute it around so that there won’t be any one clear target. Sandia is working to help them develop a "grid-free" plan that will be in place by 2007.

Bill Black of Solar Technologies Dept. 6218 is project manager for several of the military energy security projects and has visited three pilot Army bases. "This is a natural extension of our work with nuclear weapons security," he says. "It builds on what Sandia has done with dams, transmission lines, and other vulnerability assessments."

The Sandia goal is not just to assess and implement distributed energy resources for the three pilot bases, but to develop a methodology that can be used by others as well. "We want to be able to say, ‘Here’s a workbook you can apply to any military base to provide combined heat and power systems,'" Bill says. Nonmilitary applications, such as support for emergency services in smaller communities, also are a possibility for this approach, he says.

The Marines have asked Sandia to integrate a 7.6-megawatt cogeneration power plant with a one-megawatt photovoltaic system. "They want a plan to show how they can get off the grid if they need to and still have the mission capabilities they need to respond," says Dave.

The Sandia approach will be to provide solutions that are based on full-time generation by a distributed energy system, which can be isolated for security reasons when the grid goes away. "This is not a diesel backup approach. We want to consider a broad spectrum of energy generation capabilities ranging from conventional diesel to photovoltaics, fuel cells, wind, batteries, micro-turbines, or whatever it takes," says Dave.

Part of the solution to moving to a self-sufficient mode involves the concept of a "microgrid." This is a grid dedicated to a campus, military base, or even a single building, explains John Stevens (6251). The microgrid must generate enough power to meet normal loads, have safeguards to prevent disruption of power, and offer a way to make fast disconnects from the power grid when necessary.

Sandia is working with the Army Construction Engineering Research Lab in Illinois on microgrid technology right now, John says. "The microgrid is largely an engineering problem, although there are a couple of places where we are using existing devices in new ways," he says.

Another goal of the projects is to work with private sector vendors, who can install and operate energy systems that compete economically with the grid and still meet military needs. "The trick is to develop solutions that not only meet the base’s needs from a security perspective but also meet the private sector’s needs from an investment perspective," says Dave. "It’s identifying whatever makes sense depending on the resources of a given facility."

Sandia is providing essential expertise, evolved from Labs’ efforts to leverage the use of renewable and emerging energy systems, not available commercially, notes Dave. Through a Laboratory Directed Research and Development proposal, the team hopes to reach out to tap other expertise within Sandia, as well. "We’re sure there’s related work out there where we can contribute technical value and vice versa," says Dave. "This fits at the heart of what Sandia is all about."