Ryan Sullivan, directorate of Public Works recycle operator, charges the recycle program's new all-electric truck. (Army)
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Fort Carson, Colo., is testing a novel idea: using electric cars, when they are not being driven, as batteries to help power the post.
The idea is to regulate the vehicles' power usage more carefully and return unused power in the vehicles to the power grid.
For Defense Department officials, this translates into dollar signs.
Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said some Pentagon projections show the revenue from utility companies for the returned power could offset the vehicles' costs.
"It could mean we get the vehicles at no cost, which — if we are able to — would change the industry and would certainly help the American public," Hammack said.
The Fort Carson program is part of a broader Defense Department effort along the same lines.
Richard Kidd, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for energy and sustainability, said the challenge is to make sure the electric vehicles are parked and plugged in when and where they need to be.
"All this will pay for itself if we can discharge the truck at the right time," Kidd said.
The Army also is working with electric vehicles to help make Fort Carson more energy independent in case the civilian grid fails.
Harold Sanborn, the research and development program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers and the technical lead for the Smart Power and Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security project, said electric vehicles can be used to help extend the time Fort Carson can remain independent of the grid.
The electric vehicles plug in to a micro-grid — a miniature replica of the larger commercial power grid that generates and transmits energy from multiple sources and allows an installation to decide how much energy goes to any individual building or system.
"In the event of an energy outage, they would be plugged back into their charging station and would be given the ability to discharge that energy," Sanborn said.
The electric vehicles would be used in combination with diesel generators and solar panels at the installation, according to Sanborn.
Fort Carson has five electric trucks that will be retrofitted at the end of the summer to discharge power, according to Vince Guthrie, Fort Carson's utilities program manager. The post is playing host to the project, led by Tank Automotive Research and Development Command.
The post has been designated one of the Army's net-zero installations, and its goal is to produce as much sustainable power as it consumes by 2020. "To reach our goals, we have to push the edge of what technology can do," he said.
For Fort Carson, which is adding such intermittent renewable energy sources as solar power, batteries are an important way to even out the peaks and valleys, Guthrie said. Energy storage is expensive, and the trucks can help.
Guthrie also said the trucks could charge up at night, when it costs the least, and discharge power to the micro-grid during the day to offset consumption during peak-rate periods. Guthrie said each vehicle battery has the potential to save the post $400 per month.
"If we can use this battery and shave our consumption for one hour, and we do it every day for a month, we can avoid the peak demand charge for the whole month," Guthrie said.
Bryan Hansel, CEO of Smith Electric, said the company is not developing trucks outside of the Army purchase, but he predicted bidirectional power would eventually come into broader use.
"We definitely see it across the DoD. As we talk to the Navy and the Air Force, they say if they buy an electric truck, they want it to be grid-compatible," Hansel said. "We see the military out front, on the leading edge, but we are being approached by utilities for pilot programs."
At Los Angeles Air Force Base, the Air Force is replacing 43 gas- and diesel-powered vehicles with electric versions and building charging stations that allow the electric vehicles to send energy back into the grid. The project will be running by August for at least a year while the Pentagon gathers data and gauges the program's effectiveness, said Camron Gorguinpour, special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.
Gorguinpour said each vehicle in the plug-in electric vehicle program could bring in as much as $7,300 a year using this technique.
DoD is expanding the $20 million program to five other installations: Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
The projects will come online by the end of the year, according to Gorguinpour. If they show positive results, the program will be expanded to include 30 installations across the country — with 1,500 electric vehicles in all.
After that, DoD will decide how to further expand the program.
DoD is working to meet a number of mandates, including reducing petroleum use in its nontactical vehicle fleet by 20 percent from a 2005 baseline by fiscal 2015, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and purchasing more environmentally friendly vehicles.