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NEWS | Dec. 26, 2023

Powering the Mission: MCAS Miramar Microgrid Brightens the Future During Steel Knight

By Pfc. Seferino Gamez, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is not only a bustling hub of fighter jets, helicopters, and Marines always on the alert, it is a game-changer in energy security. Its cutting-edge microgrid played a pivotal role during exercise Steel Knight 23.2, a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing aviation training exercise, by providing power to the air station during a simulated blackout at the air station Nov. 30.

Mick Wasco, the Director of Utilities and Energy Management at MCAS Miramar, explained that the innovative microgrid at MCAS Miramar is not just a backup power supply for critical equipment, it is a step forward in energy resilience that can enhance emergency operations for an entire military installation.

The microgrid functions by bringing together many energy resources to power its own electrical distribution grid, according to U.S. Marine Corps Col. Thomas M. Bedell, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It draws from dual diesel and natural gas generators, renewable components, such as the landfill power plant connected to San Diego Landfill, solar panel systems, and a facility backup generator integrated into the microgrid system.

Bedell described the Miramar microgrid as a “third layer” of energy security for MCAS Miramar. The first layer is power from San Diego Gas and Electric, and the second layer consists of approximately 50 backup generators supporting critical systems.

"The microgrid allows a third layer, where you basically replace the utility with your own power,” said Bedell. “Everything turns back on, just like SDG&E, except we’re the ones providing the power."

Wasco described the air station’s attitude toward microgrid development.

"We’re sort of paving our own road here,” he said, “and I think that’s helpful to the rest of the Marine Corps, the rest of the DOD (Department of Defense), and the community at large, considering that microgrids are sought after as a solution to many issues, not just military bases."

The simulated power outage during Exercise Steel Knight was the 15th test of the Miramar microgrid’s capabilities. This test gave the air station staff an indication of how the microgrid could respond to blackouts caused by cyber attacks on the air station’s energy infrastructure, explained Bedell.

Wasco said that one way the exercise validated the microgrid’s effectiveness was by demonstrating a need for a third layer of energy security, which the microgrid provides.

"It confirmed the suspicion that these status quo backup generators, what we have as our first line of defense, isn’t enough,” elaborated Wasco. “If other installations are going to be doing these exercises, they will be learning the same lessons that there’s so much equipment out there to maintain."

The limitations of the first-line generators gave the air station staff an opportunity to see the microgrid in action. According to Bedell, the air station coordinated with 3rd MAW to repeatedly cut the first two layers of energy and restore power with the microgrid, proving that the microgrid is an effective immediate emergency response system for energy blackouts.

“The microgrid performed as advertised,” said Bedell.

The performance of MCAS Miramar's microgrid during Exercise Steel Knight established a waypoint in the air station’s movement toward increased energy resiliency and emergence response capability, but more work lies ahead, according to Bedell. He shared that there is a need to develop a workforce at the air station that can keep the microgrid running for 14 to 21 days, which will require additional recruitment and training.

Wasco expressed pride in the air station’s progress in developing better energy resiliency and emergency response capability.

“We are championing for both industry and government with these types of operations, and learning something new every time,” said Wasco. “So, the ability to continue to do these tests gives us training and confidence, and things to tweak and continuously improve.”

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