NEWS | June 1, 2021

Microgrid to Generate Net Zero for Fort Hunter Liggett

By Cynthia McIntyre

Fort Hunter Liggett conducted a groundbreaking ceremony May 27, 2021 to build a $21.6 million electrical microgrid, which will make it the first Army installation to achieve Net Zero for critical operations. That means it will be capable of generating and distributing electricity for 14-days of energy resiliency. It is an important first step in scaling this type of energy self-sufficiency throughout the Department of Defense.

“This microgrid expansion will allow us to reach our Net Zero goals by 2022,” said Col. Charles Bell, FHL garrison commander. “Although we’re an Army Reserve installation, we see a lot of activity from the active Army, Navy, Special Warfare Group, and it’s critical that we’re able to continue to provide this platform to all these units that train here.”

FHL’s energy, waste and water resiliency and sustainability projects has garnished lots of high-level attention in the past decade, and thus, been selected as part of a handful of installations to provide a White House Virtual Tour, to showcase its accomplishments, said Bell.

John Moreno, Senior Executive Service, and regional business director, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division, said, “I think it’s going to be at the tip of the spear of energy resilience initiatives that the DoD and the Department of Army are working to achieve.”

Nicole Bulgarino, Executive vice president and general manager, Ameresco, Inc., said, “This innovative, fully integrated microgrid system is going to provide contingency electric power to the installation in the event of power outages and persistent grid instability.”

Col. James Handura, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District was also at the ceremony and along with the speakers, to conduct media interviews.

“Holistically we have one of the most forward-leaning energy programs,” said Jarrod Ross, Resource Efficiency Manager for FHL. “We have become an example for the Army to hold up as far as what could be accomplished. However, FHL would have never reached this achievement without the exceptional level of technical and budgetary support from The Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate, Sustainment and Resiliency Division, which has long championed these efforts.”

Ross explained what this project means in practical terms. “Resiliency comes when you can disconnect from the grid and continue to operate mission and/or facilities in the absence of grid power. If we have a public safety power shutoff (to prevent electrical wires sparking wildfires) that’s going to validate why this whole thing is necessary to begin with.”

A microgrid is a self-contained electrical distribution system capable of operating in the absence of the utility grid. This is what will be involved:
• The solar array at the Equipment Concentration Site will be expanded, and additional photovoltaic (solar) generation will be installed at the O&M yard where the groundbreaking took place.
• Power will be stored in batteries so that electricity generated during the day can be distributed at night.
• The medium voltage distribution system was upgraded and buried underground in the cantonment several years ago in anticipation of this resiliency project.
• The entire microgrid system will be governed by an automated Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that can respond to changes in grid conditions in as little as 1/30th of a second when needed.

Once up and running, the system, designed and to be installed by Ameresco, Inc., will generate more electricity than FHL can consume over a 12 month period, said Ross. “This means Fort Hunter Liggett will have satisfied an Army and DoD goal for achieving electrical Net Zero.”
That does not mean that FHL can fully disconnect from the power grid, since Net Zero is an average, not a daily capacity. “We’d export more electricity during the summer and import more in the winter. It averages out and the net amount is zero,” said Ross.

Also, even with the battery energy storage included in this contract, FHL will not have enough batteries to store every kilowatt of electricity generated by the system. “During the day when the sun’s out, we will generate more electricity than we can use or store, so we will export the excess onto the utility electrical grid,” said Ross.

A caveat: PG&E limits the amount of power that can be uploaded onto the grid, so it will not negatively impact the management of their system. As the excess approaches the mandated limit, the SCADA system would begin to curtail the output of the solar array to the grid.

Several years ago, DoD realized the need to conserve energy, avoid overtaxing the grid, and adapt to climate change. It began finding ways to reduce energy use by making buildings, utilities and lighting systems more efficient, said Ross. “Around 2013-14, they moved to the Net Zero concept to reduce consumption by installing renewables, and then beginning in 2017 the Department of the Army expanded the goal to include Mission Resilience.”
FHL is one of the nine Net Zero Initiative pilot installations selected by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.

Because it’s renewable energy, it’s not JUST a 14-day system, said Ross. “The sun makes electricity and we store it. We could go on ad infinitum as long as none of the systems fail.”

FHL has a small enough cantonment to allow for a project like this, said Ross. “It’s scalable, so we get the lessons learned, find out the challenges and difficulties and where the gaps would be. Better for us to learn it on a smaller site where we can be a little more nimble and adjust fire as necessary, than to try to learn this if we were trying to do all of Fort Bragg at one time. But the Fort Braggs of the world can come and look at us and say ‘this is a challenge, but we can mitigate many of the risks because we already have your lessons learned and experience.”

The start of the microgrid project “is the culmination of more than a decade of projects, development and planning,” said Bell. “The idea began here, and was not tasked to us from higher up. It shows how forward-thinking our team is to generate DoD-wide projects at the grassroots level. It is a huge win.”

For the last 10 years, FHL has been working with partners such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pacific Northwest National Labs, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Schweitzer Engineering Labs and others to get to this point. Ameresco, Inc. is a leading cleantech integrator specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“Working with the team at Fort Hunter Liggett has been an immensely rewarding experience as the improvements implemented at their base set a precedent for future green resiliency enhancements at federal Army bases across the country,” said Nicole Bulgarino, executive vice president of Federal Solutions at Ameresco. “We’re eager to continue building on this success by utilizing the most current energy technologies available and creating a cleaner and sustainable future.”

The installation is recognized as a leader in its energy, waste, and water resiliency and sustainability programs, and has won several Army awards.

In the past decade, FHL has eliminated the need for fuel oil as a heating source, reduced energy use intensity by 63 percent, severely reduced propane consumption, and has incorporated a variety of heat pump solutions including geothermal, air source and water source systems for HVAC and domestic hot water (DHW) applications. This was accomplished by replacing inefficient lighting, boilers, furnaces, air conditioning systems, and DHW plants with modern high-efficiency equipment.

“I just happened to be the garrison commander that’s here when we broke ground,” said Bell. “In 2022 it will be (the new garrison commander) Col. Lisa Lamb, and she’ll be able to cut the ribbon.”