Electric vehicles recruited for military base grid security

Can electric vehicles help protect a military base from power disruptions? Well, maybe not entirely, but they could help make a base microgrid secure.

That proposition will be tested at Fort Carson, Colo., one of three military installations where a joint project of the departments of Defense and Energy – called SPIDERS, for Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security – is unfolding.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $7 milllion contract for work on the Fort Carson project, and the Southwest Research Institute, in San Antonio, is in on the EV component.

“The goal for the SwRI portion of this 18-month effort is to demonstrate the ability of electric vehicles to serve as energy storage devices in support of a microgrid and provide grid ancillary services, such as peak shaving and demand response, during non-microgrid operation,” Sean Mitchem, an SwRI project manager and a principal analyst in SwRI’s automation and data systems division, said in a statement.

Microgrids are just what they sound like: smaller grids, able to operate apart from the larger grid. It’s not hard to see the value of microgrids for use in remote areas, where when powered by solar or wind or other renewable sources they can allow troops to function without relying on constant and risky refueling.

But certainly after Sandy it’s pretty clear that even here on the homeland the ability to remain powered up when the larger grid is down could be incredibly valuable. (Even before Sandy, some vital institutions around the country recognized the possible threat of power loss; check out the microgird at the Santa Rita Jail in the Bay Area, which can operated independent of the grid using solar photovoltaic panels, a 1 megawatt fuel cell cogeneration plant and wind turbines).

At Fort Carson, “Unique challenges of this project include using electric vehicles to absorb excess generated power from the base’s photovoltaic array and reduce the base’s energy bill by integrating vehicle energy storage into the energy management strategy, all the while continuing to serve as an active part of the base vehicle fleet,” SwRI co-researcher Joe Redfield said.

As part of a larger study [PDF] on how Fort Carson could become a net zero facility, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggested that military vehicles like the Smith Electric Vehicle Newton trucks – with 80 kilowatt-hour batteries – along with EVs used by commuters to Fort Carson, “will aid in regulation of variable renewable generation loads and help stabilize the grid/microgrid.”

This is just one more twist on the idea of using electric vehicles – which, after all, like most vehicles are usually parked – as power sources and for power storage. In Japan, there’s already a system available that can allow a Leaf to be used as a source of 24 kWh of energy, enough to keep a household minimally functioning for a couple of days. And there’s plenty of work going on out there, and even a sizable commercial project in development, aimed at taking advantage of electric vehicles to help balance the grid on a mass scale.

Pete Danko, EarthTechling