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Grid & national securitySolar power to reduce national security risks in the U.S. power grid

Published 10 May 2017

Vulnerabilities in the power grid are one of the most prevalent national security threats. The technical community has called for building up the resiliency of the grid using distributed energy and microgrids for stabilization. Power production from multiple sources increases the difficulty of triggering cascading blackouts, and following an attack or natural disaster, microgrids can provide localized energy security. Distributed microgrid tech can secure the electrical grids at military bases to reduce the impact of cyberattacks, physical attacks from terrorists, and natural disasters.

Distributed microgrid tech can secure the electrical grids at military bases to reduce the impact of cyberattacks, physical attacks from terrorists, and natural disasters.

Vulnerabilities in the power grid are one of the most prevalent national security threats. The technical community has called for building up the resiliency of the grid using distributed energy and microgrids for stabilization. Power production from multiple sources increases the difficulty of triggering cascading blackouts, and following an attack or natural disaster, microgrids can provide localized energy security.

MTU says that in a new paper published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, an interdisciplinary team of engineering and energy policy experts from Michigan Technological University says the first step is to outfit military infrastructure with solar photovoltaic (PV)-powered microgrid systems. Their results found that the military needs 17 gigawatts of PV to fortify domestic bases — the systems are technically feasible, within current contractors’ skill sets and economically favorable.

Additionally, the paper’s lead author, Emily Prehoda, who is finishing her Ph.D. in energy policy at Michigan Tech, says boosting bases’ energy independence supports local communities.

I come from a military-oriented family, so for me the military is important to bridge the technical capacities and policies to trickle down to other critical infrastructure and services,” Prehoda says. “This is such a huge issue, not only for the military but for other organizations, and it hits from all different sides, from the technical, economic and social—and it leads back to the idea of security.”

Independent energy
The U.S. military already has a renewable energy plan in place: 25 percent of energy production from renewable sources by 2025, but only 27 of the more than 400 domestic military sites either have fortified PV microgrids running now or have plans to do so, which makes the majority vulnerable to long-term power disruptions. Co-author Joshua Pearce says this is a great start but more is needed as most military backup systems rely on generators, which are also vulnerable to fuel supply disruption.