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The Benefits of Military Microgrids

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Military microgrids are locally controlled, interconnected systems of distributed energy resources (commonly solar, wind, or carbon-fuel generators) and energy users. Although they’re often connected to regional grids, microgrids can exist off-grid solely through their own resources. Smart technologies are commonly deployed to sense needs, divert loads, and bring resources online.

Why are military microgrids needed?

Power is a mission-critical element for the military on several levels. For example, the ability to conduct operations, maintain capacity at home and abroad, and respond to urgent requirements such as disaster relief all depend on a secure power supply.  The core concerns around power for the military include:

  • Mission capacity: The primary function of the military is meeting mission objectives, and every branch requires power to do so. Access to power, especially for high-density near-peer conflict, is essential for mission capacity and, ultimately, success. In many cases, such as disaster relief, providing reliable power to field hospitals and other works may be the mission itself.

  • Security: The US has a huge energy infrastructure, with over 55,000 substations regulating transmission across the nation’s three grids (Eastern, Western, and Texas). However, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reports that knocking out just nine of these substations could cause coast-to-coast blackouts, creating a major security vulnerability that terrorists or nation-state actors could exploit.

  • Mobility: Mission locations will not always be optimum for connecting to reliable energy sources such as local grid infrastructure. Supporting missions in remote locales or where infrastructure has been incapacitated means that the military’s energy must be mobile. Needs across short, medium, and long-term objectives will change and possibly require greater capacity, so this mobile energy must also be scalable to meet those needs.  

  • Resilience: With energy being such a critical asset, it also becomes a primary target for adversaries. There may also be significant vulnerabilities around environmental factors such as overheating or heavy storms. Creating a system that supports mission capacity in any given context means adding layers of resilience, such as building in redundancies and deploying fail-safes and switchboards that can identify and maintain critical loads.

Military microgrids can meet most of the military’s energy requirements and maintain its suite of capabilities. The Navy, for example, has stated that all of its key bases will be able to function for two weeks solely on microgrids by the end of 2025, while the Army says that all of its bases will have microgrids by 2035. Here we’ll look at the benefits of military microgrids and why they’re critical for supporting the military’s goals now and in the future.

8 benefits of military microgrids

The Pentagon and DoD have recognized that microgrids support their objectives in a number of ways. As the military itself goes through a transition in technology and goals, military microgrids can reduce risk around energy vulnerability, underpin mission success, save lives, and reduce carbon outputs. 

The benefits of military microgrids include:

1. Mission support: Military microgrids deliver on one of the key expectations of the military’s energy assets: powering units as they strive for mission objectives. Reliable power is critical for much of our military capacity, including command and control, communications, and security. Providing that energy is the foundation for our various branches, bases, and units to fulfill their roles, whether at home or in the field.

2. Extending operational reach: In certain locations, our military either can’t access or can’t guarantee the reliability of local grid energy. This applies to bases overseas and especially forward operating positions. Access to reliable energy resources allows operational planners to identify optimum positions independent of energy concerns and delimit logistics lines supporting units stationed at those locations.

3. Supply security: As a major target for adversaries, both at home and abroad, securing energy supplies is a key military goal.  Military microgrids achieve this by eliminating the risks of relying on the general grid as well as having EMP-hardened systems to minimize damage from an attack. In addition, the improvement in energy resources and batteries also removes the risk of energy loss and reliance on acid batteries or carbon-fuel generators, which can be vulnerable to environmental conditions or difficulty of fuel supply.

4. Increasing load capacity: Most armies can support themselves for immediate operations through generators. However, after the six-month mark, an army must find alternative ways to meet power demands that are both more secure and have a larger load capacity. Deploying military microgrids improves efficiency, and smart switchboards and inverters can optimally manage load between generation states (such as daytime for solar) and battery usage. Military microgrid capacity can be quite significant, with the Los Alamitos JFTB in California having a combined capacity of nearly 50MWh.

5. Independent operation: Though many microgridded bases remain connected to the grid, their ability to switch to “island-mode” and rely solely on their own energy resources gives them an important level of independence. The development of more user-friendly systems can also allow bases to function at full capacity without needing expert or external assistance. 

6. Smart monitoring: One of the defining features of modern military microgrids is the leveraging of smart technologies to monitor usage and improve efficiency. This can reduce the carbon footprint of locations and improve their operational capacity. Fort Bragg in North Carolina is a testing ground for many of the advancements in how military microgrids will function for all of our military locations.

7. Energy resilience: Military microgrids are built with resilience in mind and so often have layers of different energy resources to provide that. This could include, for example, a primary photovoltaic system, which feeds batteries and is backed up by carbon-fuel generators and acid batteries. These layers, combined with smart switchboard technologies, allow resources to kick in automatically if one layer fails or switch to only support critical loads, ensuring a consistent supply.

8. Disaster assistance: The military, in coordination with organizations such as FEMA, play a significant role in disaster response around the US as well as abroad. This generally involves delivering immediate assistance and making the area safe, with energy infrastructure often incapacitated. In these situations, the ability to arrive on-location with secure energy resources allows units to provide the best assistance they possibly can.

Conclusion The military relies heavily on having secure and resilient energy resources. However, this can be challenged by external security threats, remote locations, inadequate grid infrastructure, and environmental extremes. As a result, the US military is moving towards the widespread deployment of military microgrids that combine various energy resources on a locally controlled grid that can operate independently of the electrical grid if necessary, without losing capacity.

Military microgrids have several benefits in terms of security, resilience, mobility, and capacity, which can be deployed to support our military and various mission and community partners. To find out more about how Enercon Engineering can support mission capabilities in virtually any location through our smart technologies and military microgrids, you can learn more here or contact our team. 



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