Advanced microgrids offer a cost-effective solution to military installations' growing vulnerability to the fragile electric grid, according to a study released today by DoD’s Office of Installations and Environment. The study performed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory looked at different microgrid architectures and characteristics and compared their relative cost-effectiveness. The report provides insight into increasing energy security and reducing energy costs through the incorporation of renewable energy resources into microgrids, as well as new market opportunities for DoD in the area of demand response and ancillary services.

The study highlights the extent of ongoing microgrid work across DoD. It identified 44 installations that either had existing microgrids, planned installation of microgrids, or conducted microgrid studies or demonstrations at their facilities. The authors interviewed more than 75 people from the military Services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Department of Energy. The analysis categorized the ongoing microgrid efforts based on several key attributes including size, maturity, the inclusion of renewable resources, and the ability to operate in a grid-tied manner.

The analysis confirms the value of microgrids to DoD. The combination of on-site energy generation and storage, together with the microgrid’s ability to manage local energy supply and demand, allow installations to shed non-essential loads and maintain mission-critical loads if the electric grid is disrupted.

The report illustrates the largely untapped potential of moving to smarter, next generation microgrids that would accommodate far greater penetration of renewable energy sources, as well as tighter integration with the electrical grid. If solar resources that are increasingly being installed on DoD installations were available during islanded operation of a microgrid, they could significantly extend the islanding time. Moreover, a microgrid that could operate when tied to the grid would offer new opportunities for the DoD to generate cost savings by using backup generation assets during normal operation and generate financial revenue by using advanced ancillary services.

One important finding is that there will be no “one size fits all” solution. The location of a military installation influences the options available for energy generation sources, the options available for interaction with the local utility, the characteristics of the local electricity market, and the regulatory environment. The most effective microgrids will be those that take into account the needs of the local commercial electric grid and are configured so that they can earn value helping to meet those needs. 

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