Fort Bliss gets on the microgrid, a first for DOD

Army and Lockheed Martin officials cut the ribbon at a ceremony May 16, 2013, marking the launch of a new microgrid at Fort Bliss, which will help make the base more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

WASHINGTON – The Army flipped the switch on an advanced power system at Fort Bliss Thursday, taking a step towards the Pentagon's goal to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of its military bases around the world.

Part of the El Paso, Texas, base now runs on what's called a microgrid, an emerging technology that makes the system more energy and cost efficient by harnessing solar power and storing energy for future use. But the microgrid, which is the first at a DOD installation, is as much about security as it is the environment and cost savings.

The system decentralizes how power is sent across the base, ensuring that a major power outage doesn't affect critical operations. At Bliss the microgrid is powering the Brigade Combat Team complex, which can now run in an emergency without the base's main power supply and instead use the back-up energy provided by the microgrid's 300-kilowatt storage system.

“We are entering an age of emerging threats and cyber warfare,” Bliss spokesman Maj. Joe Buccino said in a news statement. There is too much risk of “extended power loss in the event of an attack on the fragile electric grid. This project represents the future of military energy security.”

In his State of the Union address last year, President Barack Obama highlighted the need for better energy security and less dependence on foreign oil as a matter of national security.

Bliss' microgrid was paid for by the DOD's Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, which is testing different technologies to make the military more energy efficient and secure, so Bliss is the testing ground for what could eventually be a military-wide effort should Lockheed Martin's design prove successful.

The Pentagon is the largest consumer of energy in the country. In fiscal year 2010, the military spent $4 billion to power its 300,000-plus buildings – more than a third as much money spent to power operational activity, which totaled $11 billion, according to a 2011 Defense Department report.

Congress mandated in 2007 that 25 percent of the energy the Pentagon uses come from renewable resources by 2025. As part of the Defense Department's broader push to meet that mandate, the Army will obtain by that timeframe one gigawatt of renewable energy from solar, wind and other sources on its bases – that's enough juice to power about 250,000 homes.

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