THE BLOG
11/19/2014 03:49 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

The New Face of Our Military's Energy Security

On an uncharacteristically overcast day in Southern California last week, the Air Force unveiled its latest technological innovation. It wasn't a stealth jet or drone, it wasn't a satellite or radar station, it wasn't even a cyber weapon. Instead, with a fleet of Nissan Leafs, Ford F-series trucks, and other vehicles, the Air Force took an important step that may eventually revolutionize how we think about the cars we drive and the way we keep the lights on.

Los Angeles Air Force Base will replace its entire non-tactical vehicle fleet with 42 electric vehicles, the largest plug-in electric vehicle fleet on a federal facility. But the most important and innovative part of the Los Angeles Air Force Base project is that each of these vehicles will be able to export electricity from its batteries back to the electric grid, providing what's called vehicle to grid (V2G) services. By plugging into bi-directional charging stations linked through an advanced central control system, these vehicles can respond instantly to spikes in electricity demand and charge themselves when the grid is stable.

The Los Angeles Air Force Base project is the largest V2G demonstration in the world and its implications are important. It will save the base significant sums on its utility bill since those vehicles will be able to smooth the demand spikes on the electricity grid that are most costly for utilities to respond to. A smaller project at the University of Delaware reported generating $110 per vehicle each month.

The applications for this technology are nearly limitless. First, electricity storage has been cited by many as the missing link to integrating more renewable sources of electricity like wind and solar to the electric grid. Our military alone has more than 200,000 non-tactical vehicles in its fleet, nearly all of which could eventually provide valuable electricity storage services back to the grid. Now imagine that effect multiplied by members of surrounding military communities all being able to save money just by keeping their EV plugged in. Taken to reasonable projections, V2G technology could transform the electric vehicle market.

For a military that is 98 percent dependent on the fragile civilian electricity grid for power on its installations, the storage capacity of electric vehicles could provide essential capabilities. Military installations all over the country are looking for energy resilience solutions to maintain critical operations when the electric grid is out. Pairing electric vehicles with onsite solar or wind electricity generation could keep critical buildings or communications equipment powered when they're needed most.

These technologies could make a huge difference on the battlefield as well. Today, much of the equipment to power everything from artillery to night vision goggles on our ground troops is recharged with portable diesel generators. These generators, and the logistics to fuel them create tactical vulnerabilities on the battlefield. Exportable power technologies could allow our troops to plug in that equipment directly to vehicles, increasing the efficiency, agility, and lethality of our troops in combat. The Army and Marine Corps are already exploring the tactical applications of exportable power, and incorporating these technologies could radically reshape our future force.

The Los Angeles Air Force Base project was the latest in a host of examples of exciting collaboration between the private sector and the military. The project brought together more than a dozen innovative companies, many of them smaller technology startups, like Kisensum. These companies can grow through themselves their partnerships with government, and the government gets cutting edge technology instead of deploying outdated, inefficient systems.

Creating these partnerships is the aim of the newly announced National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL) in Austin, Texas. The NSTXL brings together leaders in the government, academia, and the private sector to ensure our military has access to the latest technology, no matter what size company it comes from. It's through exciting and innovative platforms like these, and the people they're bringing together, that our military is keeping its edge in an increasingly difficult and complicated security environment.