Partnership helps JBSA understand the uses of microgrid technology

By David DeKunder 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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An innovative partnership between Joint Base San Antonio and CPS Energy is helping both entities further understand the uses and effectiveness of microgrid technology, which has the capability of producing power without being on the electric grid.

Research on microgrid technology is being conducted at a test site at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Campbell Memorial Library. The test site includes a 20-kilowatt solar power system of 78 panels, a 75-kilowatt battery and a battery energy storage system, a container unit that houses the systems that make energy storage possible.

The project is being funded by a $950,000 grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, for its Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation, or INTEGRATE, program. The program’s purpose is to enable technologies for clean energy by increasing the hosting capacity of the grid.

At a media tour of the test site Jan. 13, Brenda Roesch, 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron, said the microgrid system has the ability to provide backup power for the 23,000-square foot library when the utility grid is down or disconnected.

Roesch said the microgrid project is the first of its kind for JBSA.

“We are doing this to get the data and research to see if the system can be optimized and work as intended and see how much power we can get from a system of this nature, and is it reliable for switching over when there is grid disturbances,” she said.

The microgrid system’s battery, which is fed by solar power, can provide a minimum of 30 minutes of backup power to the library, said James Boston III, CPS Energy manager of market intelligence.

“We can be separated from the grid and this building can be totally powered through solar and battery,” Boston said.

Roesch said JBSA accepted an invitation from CPS Energy to participate in the project in 2014. CPS Energy started conducting tests at the microgrid site last year after the solar panels and the system components were installed.

“We had to try it out for a year when there is grid interruptions to see if it all works as intended,” Roesch said. “There were some hiccups and that’s what the research part is about. They (CPS Energy) have since tweaked the systems and now by the end of a year’s worth of data, it is working very, very well. It’s been very successful.”

The research being conducted at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston library microgrid site could provide an alternative backup power source to JBSA mission partners who rely on diesel generators, Roesch said.

“This would be a clean alternative to switching over to diesel when we have power outages for those missions that right now rely on diesel generators,” she said. “This would be something we would be excited to see expanded on a larger scale.”

Roesch said the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston library was chosen as the test site for the microgrid project because it met the NREL INTEGRATE program requirements for building size and because it has a low mission risk.

By participating in the project with JBSA, Boston said CPS Energy is learning how microgrid technology works.

“We wanted to gain operational knowledge of microgrid energy technology so that we have the possibility of providing it to customers in the future,” Boston said.

Research at the test site has allowed CPS Energy to develop safety procedures for work crews and customers when interacting with microgrid technology, Boston said.

Included at the site is a microgrid management system, which contains supervisory control and data acquisition capabilities that receives data from different components and allows CPS Energy to control those components; a smart intelligent switch that can be used to run the microgrid manually separate from the utility grid, and a weather station and solar forecasting intelligence, which provides data to the microgrid system on how much energy could be generated by solar panels depending on cloud cover.

The battery energy storage system includes lithium ion batteries and an inverter that converts battery power from direct current to alternating current.

The project is part of the JBSA Public/Public/Public/Private (P4) Community Partnership Initiative, which allows JBSA and the 502nd Air Base Wing to enter into partnerships in the community to provide, receive or share installation support services for many of its municipal and morale, welfare and recreation functions.

Other partners in the project include Omnetric Group, part of Siemens & Accenture Company, Cisco and the University of Texas at San Antonio Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, which provided the equipment for the weather station and solar forecasting.

Since the microgrid test project has been successful, Roesch said JBSA is in discussions with CPS Energy to participate in future partnerships.


Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Joint Base San Antonio website.