When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, it wasn’t just cities and towns that experienced power outages—U.S. military facilities also went offline. For example, the regional relief operations center at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, MS, ran on backup power systems for two weeks, and then needed relief itself. Keesler Air Force Base near Biloxi lost its airfield lights and a hospital generator. The incidents prompted concerns at the Pentagon over the military’s ability to operate during and after a disaster. Perhaps even more important is the military’s ability to function after a terrorist attack. Such attacks don’t have to be military in nature. More and more, terrorist groups and even nations are looking for ways to infiltrate government agencies, utilities and businesses that use the Internet to communicate. Probes from hostile sources have been detected searching for weaknesses in the security of systems such as the electric grid. Should such an attack be successful in shutting down or damaging what may be the nation’s most important infrastructure, the military might be rendered inoperative for a critical period of time.

One of the solutions the Pentagon is looking at to thwart such attacks is the conversion of military power systems from reliance on the AC grid to the use of microgrids. These systems create and store energy from renewable sources like solar power, and use AC grid power only when needed. Because the microgrids are self-sustaining, they can be disconnected from the main grid (called islanding), and will continue to operate even if other systems are down.

Recently, Nextek Power Systems, Inc. completed a Direct Current microgrid demonstration project at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. One of the base’s buildings is 100% powered from solar panels on the roof, which provided electricity without reliance on the AC grid, even during off hours. In fact, the panels produced power to spare that is stored in batteries until it is needed. Since the installation nearly a year ago, the facility has not drawn any power from the AC grid!

The project also showed that expanding the program and implementing microgrid systems on a wider basis could achieve significant savings.

Microgrid technology is a viable solution to the military’s concerns over operational status and security. And they also offer the added benefit of achieving the administration’s goals for cutting energy consumption and switching to renewable energy sources. Nextek is committed to developing this technology for both government and commercial clients.

Further Reading: Fort Huachuca Case Study (pdf)