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Renewable Energy Vision
Expert analysis on the most pressing issues facing the renewable energy sector in the U.S and abroad from ACORE staff, members and supporters.

Driving Renewable Energy to Meet the Core Defense Mission, Part II

Published on 07 Apr 2014  |   Written by    |  

This is the second piece of a two part series. The first post is here.

Sunday Quarterbacking

Smart grids are being introduced in certain military installations, such as in Washington, DC and San Diego, CA, but are not yet fully operational. They are impressive but the big question remains – are they vulnerable to cyber-threats? In-the-field applications experimentation and training for applications-oriented “real world” sites is laudable, but the learning curve takes time on optimizing energy savings and generation, load shifting and shedding, sensor coordination, and maintenance. The first DoD step should be a DoD-wide requirement that all on-site energy systems connected to the electric grid must minimally have “smart” switching. This requirement must become a standard practice; meaning when there is independent on-base electric generation, if the grid goes down, the electric power is redirected towards critical functions. This can be accomplished automatically and not via computer or internet so there can be no cyber-interference.

Advanced storage which includes smart battery banks, compressed air and liquids, flywheels, pumped storage, and hydrogen can be married to these systems to provide hours, days or weeks of autonomy as well as pristine electric power quality.

Over the last 14 years, my company has blended renewable energy and high value energy efficiency along with energy storage. The solar photovoltaics and small wind systems I recommend, in most cases, have battery banks that are dedicated to critical functions and do not interact with the electric grid. The benefits are many, and greater use of distributed generation with web-enabled diagnostics for battery banks may become a valuable solution to the higher incidences of electric power outages and significantly degraded electric power quality that affect us as electric surges (overvoltages), electric sags (undervoltages), and transients (spurts of electrons) – all which significantly degrade or harm digital equipment. In 2014, this encompasses most appliances, office equipment, and all computers and microprocessors and communications equipment.

I often hear that batteries are too costly, are not reliable, and add complications. However, there is nothing further from the truth. I have had hundreds of large-scale, renewable-charged battery systems running globally for over a decade without one problem.

By isolating circuits and dedicating battery banks to critical circuits in a building, facility, or infrastructure, you provide absolute reliable power. By web-enabling the battery banks, meaning only diagnostics, the customer knows if their batteries are full, and if certain batteries’ state-of-charge falls below the other batteries, or, if they increase in temperature, these batteries can be switched out before there is a problem.

Fine Touches - Electric Power Quality

Most of the equipment on our military bases is digital. Battery banks provide extremely clean electric power, and if totally dedicated to circuits, that electric power provided is far superior to electric grid power quality.

If solar charged battery banks are dedicated to internal circuits and isolated completely from the electric grid, there is no need to interact with electric utilities. In fact, that’s what most of my corporate and military clients do. With no interconnection fights, these circuits are pulled off the electric grid forever and are 100% renewable energy powered.

By adopting on-site, energy-charged, dedicated systems, the federal consumer saves on electricity bills, does not require diesel or other back-up power solutions, and does not require power conditioning or surge protection equipment. My Arlington home and my Virginia office building have dedicated battery banks, and I have never had an outage in over 20 years.

Batteries are in a technology renaissance through great advances in material science within the military and spurred by the cellular, laptop, and hybrid vehicle markets. In my own experience, I have worked with 17 different types of batteries from 39 companies. Almost all the batteries I work with are sealed (no maintenance) and have 7–10 year warranties. Energy diagnostic and management software for electric systems including batteries is also in an evolutionary stage providing more intuitive diagnostics that is more accurate and in “real time.”

On-site energy generation is on the rise. In a September 17, 2013 Wall Street Journal article,, they reported, “Since 2006, the number of electricity-generation units at commercial and industrial sites has more than quadrupled to roughly 40,000 from about 10,000, according to federal statistics.” For commercial, government, and institutional customers — in particular, those who value electric power reliability and outsource back-up generator testing, repairs, and fuel switch-outs, as well as power quality equipment routine replacements — the costs favor renewable battery systems. On-base military housing and vendors can also gain from this approach by having their refrigerator, sump pumps, electronic ignition on natural gas appliances, wifi and computer working during power failures (and electric loads are always off their electric bill).

A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that the industry anticipates big changes to utility business models in the near future, attributing much of the predicted transformation to the rise of distributed generation and the growth of renewable energy sources. In North America, 40% of respondents believed that utility companies' means of making a profit will see major changes over the next two decades. A strong majority — 82% — of North American respondents also said future energy needs will be met by a mix of traditional centralized generation and distributed generation, which feeds power from a mix of sources.

A clear resolution, instead of leaving on-site energy systems as grid-dependent devices, is to put these systems back to work via dedicated on-site systems with electric storage OR utility-interconnected systems with “smart” switching by diverting electricity generated to a pre-prioritized set of critical facility, infrastructure, or building functions.

Millions of buildings now have solar water heating and solar daylighting, geothermal heat pumps, CFLs/LEDs, and advanced window systems (e.g. super-insulated, electrochromics, etc.), which reduce electric load significantly and forever. So why shouldn't on-site solar-electric, small wind and other distributed generation systems be enlisted to perform the same service? Energy storage and “smart switching” also allows the military facilities to have maximum freedom from electric power lines or diesel fuel supplies during outages and disruptions.

Well known energy lawyer, Michael Zimmer, says, “Our energy approach uses 19th century energy technologies over a 20th century grid for 21st century solutions.” The Stella Group could not agree more. It is time to change the agenda, and this is one practical approach.

Reliable and Ongoing Trouble-Free Energy Systems

Whether a military facility procures an energy efficiency system, energy management system, renewable or distributed energy system, or on-site biofuels system — from an institutional point-of-view and a taxpayer point-of-view, the goal should be that the systems will operate for the warranted life of the technology package.

  • Challenge One: Specifications for certification of equipment, components, and installers for proposal and procurement RFPs, and contracting review are not perfect. Most utility-scale renewables are orchestrated through power purchase agreements (PPAs), which in part addresses these problems because the risk falls under the firm installing the unit. Since 2010, there were several extended downtimes within the private sector. Internally-procured systems for military bases lack these protections and awareness, which could have negative impacts later on. This requires better internal DoD training, more detailed guidelines, and a rigorous checking as to whether internal guidelines are being met in validating warrantees and multi-levels of certifications.

  • Challenge Two: Training operations and maintenance (O&M) staff is needed to ensure operational longevity. Many federal installations have outside contractors maintain their energy systems. These contractors are given incentives by DoD to lower their costs, while routinely dropping seasoned, trained O&M staff for lower-cost trained staff. Not providing O&M for these new technologies causes a high incidence of operating at less-than-optimum levels, and performance will deteriorate over time. Cost-cutting incentives should not be allowed to be financed by cutting competent staff protecting DoD investments, thus a different contractor award structure needs to be implemented.

  • Challenge Three: The third challenge is verification. DoD needs to not only know the actual performance of every energy saving and energy generating application within its facility, but also when systems or components are not operating to specifications, or not operating at all. Remote diagnostics independent of the military facility’s communications network have no control function, only an information function, and are therefore more cyber secure. Only a very small percentage of federal facilities have such capability, while nearly 80% of all private sector and institutional sector-deployed systems have this capability. A DoD-wide procurement guideline needs to be developed as a consensus deployment standard.

The U.S. Department of Defense has established guidelines at the DoD level as well as in each of the military services. New contracting mechanisms have been adopted like the U.S. Army Multiple Award Task Order Contract (MATOC). All three services have net zero building and facility plans, and all are being implemented at different levels. Larger-scale and building-bed energy efficiency and renewable and distributed energy generation is happening.

Now is the time for fine tuning to optimize the mix of applications, ensure they are hardened, and optimally maintain for the long term to meet the defense mission. I have no doubt we can meet this challenge and we have much to lose if we do not.

Scott Sklar is President of The Stella Group, LTD, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

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