Army works to develop tactical smart grid

The Army has conducted a proof of concept for a smart grid that might support future tactical operations in a more efficient manner than is currently done, according to an Army news story.

The demonstration was conducted by the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), which sought to power portions of a tactical operations center in a manner that would produce insights into how the service can cut the number of generators needed, prevent overloads and avoid grid collapse. The goal was to slash grid operation and fuel consumption by 25 percent.

"The Army has traditionally addressed power generation through a collection of application-specific, stand-alone solutions," Marnie DeJong, an electrical engineer with CERDEC's Command, Power & Integration (CP&I) directorate, said in the story. "But no matter how good the individual technology, variations in loads lead to inefficiencies during operation. It's nearly impossible to keep generators operating at peak efficiency when they are operating by themselves. That's why the right solution is a mix of all technologies."

The solution lies in the microgrid approach, which enables engineers to incorporate multiple technologies, such as renewables and energy storage systems, to supplement traditional power generation techniques, DeJong said.

"This allows us to create platforms that manage and distribute power efficiently while using smaller generators. It's a sustainable practice that has applicability across all echelons, from the Forward Operating Base down to the Soldier. Furthermore, this is all transparent to the Soldier; the plug-and-play system has an open, user-friendly architecture that allows for greater operational flexibility," DeJong said in the story.

CP&I developed a microgrid architecture under the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Hybrid Intelligent Power program. CERDEC CP&I has developed three tactical architectures, two of which have been demonstrated so far, Michael Zalewski, a mechanical engineer in CP&I's Alternative Energy branch, said in the story.

"The intelligent power generation, distribution and management technologies of the microgrid support major Army initiatives to reduce both the fuel consumption and logistics associated with bases. We're also developing intelligent power management solutions for Soldier borne applications to reduce the physical burden of the dismounted squad," Zalewski said.

In addition to the tactical microgird architecture, CP&I tested a prototype handheld application that it hopes will aid in managing power for forward operating bases. The application allows the grid operator to monitor the fuel level of generator sets on a handheld device without having to be present.

"This stemmed from interacting with soldiers to get their feedback on what's needed and what's important to them. For this demonstration, we just looked at fuel level alerts, but the way ahead is to determine what additional information we need to provide through this application, such as status alerts for the entire grid and the capability to control and adjust loads. If the Android has enough processing power, we see a capability to control the grid," Christopher Wildmann, Hybrid Intelligent Power Program lead for the CP&I directorate, said in the story.

CERDEC CP&I is working with programs of record to transition and field pieces of the microgrid architecture. Project Manager Mobile Electric Power has taken pieces of the architecture to NIE.

"We're continuing to refine these systems to find the most desirable configuration of simplicity, functionality and cost that could eventually be fielded. The feedback we received this summer will directly impact design considerations for how tactical microgrids should be transported, set up and operated," Wildmann said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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