Wing Wins $6 Million Grant for Energy Independence

  • Published
  • By Mr. Timothy D. Sandland
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing Public Affairs
Innovation has always been a hallmark of the Air Force.  From pushing the operational envelope in air, space, and cyberspace to research and development of new technologies, the Air Force and Air National Guard have always been on the leading edge - striking new ground and paving a path for the future.  The tendency to lean forward and innovate is unparalleled for any organization, military or civilian.

The 102nd Intelligence Wing has never been an organization to shy away from innovation and change, as evidenced by the successful change of mission seven years ago.

The next chapter in innovation at Otis Air National Guard Base comes in the form of a $6 million grant from the Defense Department's Environmental Security Technology Certification Program that will completely transform how the base manages and uses energy.  ESTCP is the DOD's technology demonstration and validation program that was established to promote environmentally-friendly projects that demonstrate the most promising innovative and cost-effective technologies and methods addressing high-priority environmental requirements. Projects conduct formal demonstrations at DOD facilities and sites, in operational settings, to document and validate improved performance and cost savings.

The Otis microgrid project, the first of such a broad scope for a DOD installation, will provide for an energy capability almost exclusively based on renewable energy while also ensuring a high-level of grid security.

Initially proposed by the Raytheon Corporation in February of this year, the wing won one of only a handful of grants awarded.  Receiving the maximum grant amount was a great testament of the hard work by professionals from both Raytheon and the 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron who worked tirelessly on the proposal. Together, both will serve as lead for the project, seeing it through to completion.

When complete, the microgrid will serve as a showcase for DOD, Federal, and community experts to learn from.  In addition to the real benefits seen here, the project will give the DOD and Department of Energy a solid test bed to understand what energy resilience and security really means.  The microgrid will educate the DOD and other Federal agencies through technical and economic studies that will have an impact on capital energy investment strategy for the next 20 years.

 "To remain the best Air Force on the planet, we need to use our resources as productively as possible. With more than 660,000 active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen, a little bit from each of us can really become something very, very significant." 
- Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James
The microgrid will meld existing and planned power infrastructure, such as a new circuit that will connect the wind turbine located on the base.  The project will also connect the soon-to-be-completed solar panel array currently under construction.

The base's existing wind turbine, acquired and managed by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, has been in operation since 2009 and has been doing a great job off-setting the energy costs associated with the Installation Restoration Program and its environmental cleanup efforts.  The turbine currently functions independent of the base power system but the microgrid will bring the added value of wind power into the mix.

Several years ago, at the request of the wing, the EPA funded a feasibility study performed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to see what options were available for conservation here at Otis.  The result was a recommendation to build a solar field on the now closed landfill which is currently managed by the IRP.  The project will involve the installation of a solar array that will be purchased, built, and maintained at no cost to the government.  A developer will assume all costs and the base will purchase the inexpensive electricity the array produces.  When the project is completed, the array will also be tied into it.

The third piece of the project is the installation of a high capacity storage battery.  The massive battery will provide the capability to store excess power on still or cloudy days during times when the turbine or solar array isn't as effective.  The battery will enhance the strength of the system, providing a stable power source, alleviating the havoc caused by brown outs during high-usage periods.

With the mission requirements at the wing, a consistent and stable power supply is vitally important.  Should anything ever happen to the energy supply, a more than capable backup generator will stand ready to switch on instantly and protect from outages.  The modern generator only requires some modifications to be incorporated into the system.  When integrated, it will also be capable of charging the microgrid's storage battery.

The final piece, arguably the 'brains' of the microgrid, is a control system that will integrate all of the assets and allow for smart and automatic switching and routing of energy.  As Major Shawn Doyle, project manager, points out, "with renewable energy you get many peaks and troughs.  There are times when it isn't too windy or the sun isn't shining quite enough - accommodating the variable renewable input is what the control system is for."  When all segments of the microgrid are tied in, it will be able to intelligently switch between the power sources to provide the stable energy in the most efficient way possible.

Now that the grant has been awarded, the great undertaking of planning can proceed.  Electrical engineers and other experts from the 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron and Raytheon will join with their counterparts from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and others through ESTCP to design and implement the project over the coming months.

As ground is broken for the microgrid, many organizations will be relied on heavily for their expertise.  The 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron heavy-equipment operators will clear trees, build a temporary road, and will complete some of the trenching work.  The 212th Engineering Installation Squadron, proven experts in running communications cabling, will be called upon to complete the trenching required to connect the turbine to the base grid. When complete, underground cabling will link up to the developed portion of the base.

Once the cables reach that point, the Rhode Island-based Delta Company, 249th Engineer Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserves will take over, installing new poles and power lines.  Experts in high-voltage, commercial-level power generation, this unit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will play a critical role in the project's success.

With projects of this scale, there are always intangible benefits as it provides a great opportunity for the wing's power production specialists to work alongside their Army counterparts, learning the ins and outs of high voltage electrical work - something they don't get to do every day.  This represents invaluable high-voltage prime power systems training, that will not only strengthen our civil engineering capability, but also provide for experience working in a joint service environment, learning the Army's methods.

When functioning at full capacity, the microgrid will allow the base to be self-sufficient in terms of power - a capability that represents a high-degree of security and it will accomplish it with 100% renewable energy.  The dividends are undeniable.  Cutting energy costs during a time when limited resources demand the military spend their dollars more efficiently and effectively.

The savings don't stop at the fiscal.  The positive impact on our environment is huge.  Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels by utilizing renewable energy sources such as the sun and wind will ensure the stress on the earth's finite resources are minimized. The project's location on Cape Cod, a region known for its natural beauty and ecology, is the perfect setting for the environmentally responsible project.

 "Our military leaders recognize the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels, decreasing energy use, reducing our reliance on imported oil, making ourselves more energy-efficient." 
- President Barack Obama

Earlier this year, the President signed an executive order mandating that all Federal departments and agencies ensure that 25% of the electric energy consumed comes from renewable sources.  The microgrid will ensure that goal is not only met, but exceeded well before the required year of 2025.

Energy initiatives, like the microgrid project, are the right thing to do for our Airmen and our nation. Through increased operational efficiencies, research and design activities, and infrastructure investment, the Air Force and Air National Guard, will reduce its carbon footprint while accomplishing the mission.

The project is slated to start construction in 2017.