Fort Carson involved in national microgrid testing

November 10, 2013
photo - Fort Carson has been implementing energy systems on base Wednesday, September 18, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Fort Carson has been implementing energy systems on base Wednesday, September 18, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette  

"Critical national security and homeland defense missions are at an unacceptably high risk of extended outage from failure of the electric grid." - The Defense Science Board Task Force on DOD Energy Security.

U.S. Northern Command and Fort Carson are key players in the development of a massive power grid pilot program called SPIDERS that has been deemed critical to national security.

Other major players include national labs such as Sandia National Laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, National Renewal Energy Laboratory, Colorado Springs Utilities, Rocky Mountain Institute, all branches of the military and North American Electric Reliability Corp.

SPIDERS, which stands for Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security, is a Department of Defense, Department of Energy and Homeland Security project that aims to show alternative power generation can be pieced together to provide backup power for critical infrastructure in the event of power grid collapses. The system also includes additional cyber security measures.

"Our grids are vulnerable," says Vince Guthrie, utilities manager at Fort Carson. "There are natural disasters and there are people who want to take the grid out."

The backup power would be provided by a microgrid, a local group of alternative electricity generation that could function on its own.

Still being developed, it passed small scale, but criticaltests at Fort Carson and will next be tested on an entire military installation - Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii.

At Fort Carson, the testing included electric vehicle-to-grid storage and the use of solar power for the microgrid.

Although there is plenty of backup power on the post, says Melanie Johnson, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, microgrids provide another level of protection in case the larger power grid goes down.

Johnson led the testing at Fort Carson.

At Fort Carson, backup power sources include a solar array, electric vehicles that can return power to the grid if needed, and diesel generators.

"What we have done here is leveraged a lot of existing assets," Johnson says. "Using the electrical distribution system, diesel generators, solar array and electric vehicles already there, we saw opportunities to use these resources to make the grid system."

With the microgrid, diesel generators specifically assigned to a single building can be used to help power other structures. Right now, each diesel generator powers one building.

"Colorado Springs is a reliable utility, but there are things you can't do anything about. Solar flares provide geomagnetic disturbances that can cause a lot of problems for transmissions systems - if there were such a disturbance and power was lost in the region, the microgrid would come up and serve the post."

The program could be available to installations throughout the Department of Defense and commercially through the Department of Energy.

For instance, the system could be used for isolated communities in case of a grid failure.

"By increasing the reliability and the redundancy, we are making the chance of totally losing power to one of the very important loads smaller," Johnson says.

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