Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL
NREL scientists Evan Rosenlieb, Nicholas Brunhart-Lupo, and Amy Schwab look at a 3D visualization of a resiliency study for Tyndall Air Force Base.

NREL, U.S. Air Force Collaborate on Growing Portfolio of Resiliency Work

May 6, 2020
NREL's partnership with the U.S. Air Force has led to smarter, stronger, more flexible base infrastructure.

As the U.S. Air Force (AF) continues to bolster its resilience efforts, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) continues to grow its capabilities and expertise in this same area. The NREL's partnership with the AF has led to smarter, stronger, and more flexible base infrastructure, strengthening the AF's ability to execute its missions worldwide.

In 2018, a team from the NREL worked with the AF to identify vulnerabilities at Florida's coastal-located Tyndall Air Force Base and put together a risk mitigation strategy. With its 40-plus years of renewable energy expertise, the NREL presented the AF with a strategy that included the supplementation of traditional energy sources with renewable sources in a variety of ways. The strategy was designed to boost resiliency, but it also uncovered a critical need to consider the interdependency of the energy system and other systems, such as communications, transportation, food, and water. It effectively places a greater importance on the surrounding community, where many of the base personnel have a vested interest.

"Right after we did that assessment, Tyndall was hit with a Category 5 hurricane," said Sherry Stout, NREL engineer. "We were able to validate how close we were. After a hurricane is a vulnerable time to go into any community of people. To have that level of trust in us, to be able to sit down and talk about the base and some of their homes — that collaboration taught us a lot about which stakeholders to engage and how to engage them. Tyndall was so collaborative and helped us work through the process."

Hurricane Michael ripped through the Southeast, leaving a torn-up Tyndall Air Force Base in its path, before the AF could implement any of the mitigation strategies. While Tyndall considered the mitigation strategies provided by the NREL for its ongoing rebuilding effort, the AF continued to focus on strengthening the community. As a result, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recognized a growing need to address severe weather and its potential impact on national security.

Mark Jacobson, NREL senior project leader and liaison to the AF, said the relationship between the NREL and the AF is growing. Jacobson said he sees the NREL as more of a strategic partner to the AF in matters of increasing resiliency — microgrids being one area of specific interest across all of the DoD.

"We've supported a number of bases in the preliminary design and/or evaluation of microgrids and that number is increasing because of the positive feedback we've received from previous projects," Jacobson said. "We can combine that engineering analysis with providing actual testing facilities where we can test hardware-in-the-loop. Microgrids are becoming ever so important as a solution to resiliency at individual bases and we have our own microgrid at our Flatirons campus. We're not just running a computer model. We actually have physical equipment that can be tested to replicate real work problems on the base. That's just the kind of support the AF is looking for."

The NREL and the AF have been partnering on energy projects for many decades. In the past, these collaborations have been on more of a project-by-project basis, but certain requirements have pushed the NREL into an integral position to the planning stages, as well as execution. One driver, set forth by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, is a requirement for each base to develop an installation energy plan.

"They look at the installations from a high-level perspective and understand the missions the base has and make sure the energy plans support the missions," said Jacobson. "We are starting to provide support for some of the projects resulting from these plans and are looking to increase that level as needed."

The NREL is uniquely positioned to provide the kind of support the AF prefers.

"We've got a reputation of being an honest broker and providing independent analysis that isn't pushing one technology or another or one brand or another," Jacobson said. "We can combine our engineering analysis with actual testing facilities. Marry these strengths to our high-performance computing facilities and dozens of specialty energy labs that make up the Energy Systems Integration Facility, and it gives the  NREL a unique set of capabilities to offer not only the AF, but all of the DoD."

The NREL has nearly 900 active partnership agreements spanning industry; academia; and federal, state, and local governments. It can draw on those partnerships as required to pull in even more expertise and address even the most challenging specific requirements the AF can present.

"We have great relationships with the private sector, collaborating on near-term problem solving," Jacobson said. "We may propose certain ideas and outline a particular spec or high-level overview of a design solution, but the final specs and design are determined by iterating with the private sector and listening to their real-world operational and maintenance concerns. We have a lot of relationships with manufacturers, and there is a host of examples where we worked with the top manufacturers and engineering firms across the country to collaborate on a final implementable design solution."

Read the Tyndall Air Force Base project case study here. For more information on the NREL's partnership with the DoD, visit here.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!