This is the first of a two-part series.
The history of the Department of the Navy is a roadmap of America’s energy evolution. In the 18th century, wind power caught by canvas sails pushed our ships until, in the 19th century, coal power was found to be more effective. Time and progress marched on, and in 1914, USS Nevada (BB-36) launched – the first U.S. battleship whose primary fuel was oil.
Later on that century, we led the world in harnessing the power of the atom to propel our platforms. In the 21st century, the Navy and Marine Corps endure in our role as energy innovators, both afloat and ashore, so we are able to fulfill our mission to provide the global presence necessary to ensure stability, deter potential adversaries, and present options in times of crisis.
Experience teaches us that the platform for a successful energy transformation is built with three planks: technology, culture, and partnerships. When used in concert, they are greater than the sum of their parts, enabling us to create a new paradigm that increases our combat capability, enhances our energy security, and empowers us to accomplish our mission.
Ashore, we see this changing paradigm at our installations. The Sailors, Marines, and civilians who serve in and around our 117,000 buildings on 3.5 million acres play an increasingly critical role in promoting readiness, generating the force structure necessary for mission success, and enabling combat operations. It is crucial that these installations, and the communities surrounding them, be as resilient as possible to enable our personnel to continue the mission in the face of disruption.
Our efforts ashore center on innovating the technology we use to create, store, and allocate energy on our bases. We have become increasingly concerned about the commercial grid’s vulnerability to kinetic or cyber attack. Today, we are partnering with industry and utilities to diminish that risk by increasing our use of distributed generation, distributed storage, and more agile demand response technology.
Our efforts include joining distributed generation with microgrids and smartgrid technology to exert a new level of control and reliability over our energy infrastructure, and not just inside the fence line. Our Sailors, Marines, and civilians, and their families, often live in the communities adjacent to our bases. So, we are partnering with these cities and towns to increase the region’s resiliency, to ensure emergency services are available and our personnel can get to their posts.
A great example of this collaboration is found at Naval Submarine Base New London, in Connecticut. There, we are partnering with the nearby Town of Groton and local energy service providers to develop a microgrid with hybrid distribution capabilities. The project will support multiple types of generation: a base load energy source, like natural gas, and backup generation technology, including alternative sources. We are exploring how to extend the microgrid’s capabilities to local first responders, medical treatment facilities, and potentially the commercial corridor in Groton.
Our storage and distribution technologies depend on reliable generation. Coal and natural gas still power the majority of our commercial grid, and they have been critical tools for many years. But no military commander likes to rely on a single supply line, and this includes our energy sources. To avoid this vulnerability, we are partnering with utilities and alternative energy innovators to diversify our power supply and move to a distributed set of generators, rather than a single target.
Dennis McGinn is assistant secretary of the Navy, Energy, Installations & Environment.