Microgrids, how might they protect national security?

The U.S. electric grid has been called the world’s largest machine, but the number of major power outages across the country has increased significantly since 2000, creating potential risks for national security. The military is addressing this concern by developing smaller, independent electricity systems known as microgrids. Reporter Dan Boyce has the story.

TRANSCRIPT

THE U.S. ELECTRIC GRID HAS BEEN CALLED THE WORLD'S LARGEST MACHINE, BUT THE NUMBER OF MAJOR POWER OUTAGES ACROSS THE COUNTRY HAS INCREASED SIGNIFICANTLY SINCE 2000, CREATING POTENTIAL RISKS FOR NATIONAL SECURITY.

THE MILITARY IS ADDRESSING THIS CONCERN BY DEVELOPING SMALLER, INDEPENDENT ELECTRICITY SYSTEMS, KNOWN AS MICROGRIDS.

REPORTER DAN BOYCE TAKES US TO A MICROGRID AT THE FORT CARSON ARMY BASE IN COLORADO AND SHOWS US HOW THESE SYSTEMS COULD BE REPLICATED IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR.

[ BEEPING ]

READY FOR A RIDE?

HERE WE GO.

RAMON CROCKETT IS A SUPPLY SPECIALIST AT FORT CARSON ARMY BASE.

YOU CAN BASICALLY CONSIDER US KIND OF LIKE A HOME DEPOT OR ACE HARDWARE FOR THE POST.

HE SPENDS MUCH OF HIS DAY IN A DELIVERY TRUCK HAULING STUFF HERE AND THERE...

HERE'S YOUR PARTS.

ALL RIGHT, SIR.

YOU HAVE A GOOD DAY.

BUT WHEN CROCKETT SHOWS UP AND WHEN HE LEAVES, IT'S WITH A WHISPER.

YEAH. IT'S NICE.

ALL THE GUYS SAY I SNEAK UP ON 'EM.

[ LAUGHS ]

HIS TRUCK IS ONE OF A SMALL FLEET OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES DRIVING AROUND FORT CARSON, RANGING FROM CARRYING REFRIGERATED GOODS TO WEAPONS TO TROOPS HEADING OUT TO TRAIN.

WE REALLY DON'T CARE WHAT THE VEHICLE DOES FOR ITS MISSION.

IT'S JUST THE FACT THAT IT'S AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE THAT'S DOING IT INSTEAD OF A GASOLINE ENGINE.

BILL WAUGAMAN LEADS ENERGY SECURITY FOR U.S. NORTHERN COMMAND, THE MILITARY'S HOMELAND DEFENSE ARM.

FORT CARSON'S ELECTRIC VEHICLES MAKE AN IMPORTANT PIECE OF THE PROJECT ON WAUGAMAN'S SHIRT.

IT'S ONE OF THOSE CLEVER GOVERNMENT ACRONYMS.

SPIDERS IS THE SMART POWER INFRASTRUCTURE DEMONSTRATION FOR ENERGY RELIABILITY AND SECURITY.

UH, LET'S JUST STAY WITH CALLING IT 'SPIDERS.'

FORT CARSON IS HOOKED UP TO THE SAME ELECTRICITY GRID WE ALL USE, WHICH IS RELIABLE THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE TIME, BUT VINCE GUTHRIE, THE BASE'S UTILITY MANAGER, SAYS INDEPENDENCE HAS ITS ADVANTAGES.

IF WE EVER RUN INTO THAT CRISIS SOMEDAY WHERE WE HAVE A LONG-TERM ELECTRIC OUTAGE -- YOU KNOW, A HURRICANE KATRINA, SOME TYPE OF DISASTER, A TERRORIST EVENT...

IF SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, SPIDERS ALLOWS FORT CARSON TO RUN ON ITS OWN POWER GENERATED ON SITE FROM THESE SOLAR PANELS, DIESEL GENERATORS, AND, YEAH, THE ELECTRIC TRUCKS.

IN AN EMERGENCY, THE TRUCKS CAN PLUG IN AND ACT AS STORAGE BATTERIES FOR THE ELECTRICITY GENERATED.

FORT CARSON IS LIKE A SMALL VILLAGE WITH HOUSES AND SCHOOLS, BUT OF THE 95 BUILDINGS HERE, WAUGAMAN SAYS SPIDERS ONLY REALLY NEEDS TO BE CONCERNED WITH POWERING A FEW.

THEY REALLY ONLY HAVE THREE THAT WE ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO MAINTAIN THE POWER TO IN ORDER TO DO THE MISSION.

LIKE THE DATA CENTER AND THE HEADQUARTERS COMMAND POST.

ALL OF THIS HELPS WITH THE SECURITY AT THIS MILITARY BASE, MAKES THE POWER HERE MORE RELIABLE, BUT THE SUITE OF TECHNOLOGIES BEING DEVELOPED HERE COULD ONE DAY BE IMPLEMENTED IN ALL KINDS OF OTHER SECTORS.

AND IT ALREADY IS.

SOME HOSPITALS, JAILS, AND UNIVERSITIES HAVE MICROGRIDS.

USUALLY, THOUGH, THEY RELY ON DIESEL GENERATORS.

FUEL TANKERS HAVE BEEN ANCHORED OFFSHORE IN NEW YORK HARBOR, WAITING FOR THE PORTS TO OPEN.

RESIDENTS OF HARD-HIT AREAS IN NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY HAVE BEEN SUFFERING THROUGH MAJOR GAS SHORTAGES.

DURING SUPERSTORM SANDY, DIESEL SHORTAGES RACKED THE EAST COAST.

WAUGAMAN SAYS GENERATORS FAILED IN MULTIPLE HOSPITALS FROM OVERUSE.

RENEWABLES AND BATTERIES COULD MAKE THESE MICROGRIDS MORE RELIABLE.

THE MILITARY IS AN IMPORTANT TESTING GROUND FOR MAKING SURE THESE SYSTEMS WORK.

WE PLAY WAR, RIGHT?

AND SO, ON THE MILITARY INSTALLATION, WE CAN RED-TEAM.

WE CAN BASICALLY ATTACK OUR INFRASTRUCTURE FROM THE CYBER-POINT OF VIEW.

WE HAVE TO PILOT THESE THINGS SO WE REALIZE WHAT THE POTENTIAL IS IN THE FUTURE, SO YOU CAN HAVE SOME LESSONS LEARNED AND YOU CAN HELP DRIVE THOSE MARKETS, 'CAUSE A LOT OF THESE COMPANIES ARE STILL EVOLVING THEIR TECHNOLOGIES.

THIS WOULD BE KNOWN AS A UTILITY-SCALE MICROGRID.

SOME ENTREPRENEURS, THOUGH, ARE TRYING TO GET AHEAD OF THE MARKETS.

WE'RE HEADING NORTH OUT OF THE FORT COLLINS-LOVELAND- GREELEY AREA.

CRAIG HARRISON WORKS IN REAL ESTATE.

AND OUT IN AN EMPTY SQUARE MILE OF NORTHERN COLORADO PASTURE... [ LOWING ] ...NEXT TO A 30,000-ACRE BISON RANCH... HERE WE ARE.

HERE WE ARE.

...HE HAS A VISION -- THE NIOBRARA ENERGY PARK.

THE WORLD'S LARGEST PLANNED MICROGRID.

BECAUSE WHILE THIS MAY SEEM LIKE WE'RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE...

YET YOU'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE WHEN IT COMES TO THE INFRASTRUCTURE.

...HARRISON'S SQUARE MILE SITS AT THE INTERSECTION OF MAJOR ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION, NATURAL-GAS PIPELINES, AND ONE OF THE LARGEST FIBER-OPTIC HUBS IN THE COUNTRY.

HE WANTS TO POOL THOSE RESOURCES AND COMBINE THEM WITH RENEWABLES ON SITE.

AND THEN CREATE SECURE POWER FOR MISSION-CRITICAL ITEMS LIKE DATA CENTERS FOR MILITARY FACILITIES THAT CAN BE WITHIN THIS SECURE AREA.

HE'S TRYING TO COURT THE BIG GUYS -- THE GOOGLES OR THE APPLES -- TO COME IN AND BUILD.

AND HE HOPES TO CONVINCE THEM HIS MICROGRID COULD BE CHEAPER THAN BUYING THE EXPENSIVE DIESEL GENERATORS DATA CENTERS NORMALLY RELY ON.

HE THINKS THE PROJECT COULD BE WORTH $10 BILLION ONE DAY IF MICROGRIDS REALLY ARE THE FUTURE.

GREENTECH MEDIA RESEARCH SAYS THERE ARE MORE THAN 120 MICROGRIDS IN THE COUNTRY RIGHT NOW.

AND THEY PREDICT THE MARKET FOR MICROGRIDS WILL GROW NEARLY 270% BY 2020.