Our nation’s power grid, the patchwork system that transmits and distributes electricity from plants to consumers, is aging and stretched to capacity — especially in summer months when users face triple-digit temperatures, violent storms, and power outages. BURN: An Energy Journal — The Switch, airing Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 9 p.m. on AM 1370/FM-HD 91.5-2, examines the state of America’s electric power grid and the science needed to modernize it. Can 21st-century electrical engineers use “smart grid” technology to prevent power disruptions? What are the challenges involved in linking new sources of energy, such as wind and solar, to the grid? And host Alex Chadwick will also explore the challenges when there’s no grid at all, following the research of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, which aims to incorporate new technologies to solve critical problems on the battlefield, like energy.
He reports on an unlikely energy innovator, the U.S. Army, which is preparing to deploy a radically redesigned combat outpost featuring a smart microgrid. A combat outpost (COP) is the basic military camp for about 100 soldiers. COPs need to function like small communities, with power, water, sanitation, food, etc. In Afghanistan and Iraq, supplying these units with fuel and water became the single greatest point of vulnerability — long supply caravans that had to be defended were a serious drain. The new COPs — developed by various military planners, and funded by the Rapid Equipping Force — replace tents and generators with walled structures and smart grids. They cut fuel demand by at least 50% — meaning 50% fewer caravans, and a drop in casualties.