The recent, massive blackouts in Texas have revealed serious technical and market failures that have cost Texans dearly in terms of human suffering and economic losses. Post-mortem analyses and finger-pointing can be expected to continue for many weeks and months as the factors that contributed to the failure become better understood. However, one thing that can be said even now is that the resilience and robustness of the grid needs to be improved, especially given the likely increased occurrence and magnitude of natural disasters because of climate change.
This is where government entities that operate large facilities in the United States, such as the Department of Defense, can potentially play a role.
Military installations are large electricity customers, drawing power from the grid as well as generating electricity on site. The DoD has already begun innovative and strategic activities to install renewable energy, microgrids, battery storage and other projects that help increase installation resilience. Such projects could serve as models for collaboration between private industry and state or local governments. In addition, U.S. military installations could potentially improve grid resilience by increasing energy storage capacity throughout the system.
Because of the technical challenges associated with integrating and managing distributed energy resources, such as variable generation (like rooftop solar), energy storage technologies are increasingly important for grid stability.
For instance, community energy storage is an emerging approach in which participants share the benefits of energy stored in water heaters, electric vehicles or home battery-storage systems.
Military installations, which often have such assets on a larger scale, could be used to provide significant amounts of energy storage to grid systems in exchange for cost savings and enhanced energy security, such as first rights to electricity during national security emergencies. Also, by helping increase the reliability and resilience of the electricity grid overall, installations could reduce the risk of local and regional power outages; this, in turn, could help increase installation readiness.
A strategic enterprise approach across U.S. military installations in partnership with electric utilities could potentially enhance grid stability and resilience, benefiting neighboring communities, installations and national security overall. There are already some examples of innovation in business approaches and partnerships to build upon.
For example, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii partnered with the Hawaiian Electric Company to construct a 50-megawatt power plant on land at Schofield Barracks that runs on a mixture of biofuel and conventional diesel fuel. This partnership provides energy resilience as well as environmental and financial benefits for both the Army and community. Located 8 miles inland and 900 feet above sea level, the Schofield Generating Station is the only base-load power plant on the island resistant to coastal hazards and above the tsunami strike zone.
The plant also uses flexible generators that are capable of quickly starting up, shutting down or changing their output in response to sudden changes in solar and wind energy resources. This technology enables it to restart following grid incidents and provides the flexibility to accommodate changing loads and alternative sources.
In addition, in exchange for energy resiliency assurances, the installation does not charge for the use of its land, saving HECO and customers a total of about $4.3 million, compared to a facility that is located on non-Army land.
Through military and community partnerships like this, the DoD has a unique ability to improve the resilience of the grid and other energy infrastructure for military installations, utilities and surrounding communities, potentially helping to prevent some of the devastation that occurred in Texas from repeating in the future while at the same time benefiting communities and national security.
Beth Lachman is a senior operations research analyst at the think tank Rand, where Aimee Curtright is a senior physical scientist.