When it comes to power and energy, Army research and development continually seeks to develop solutions to increase performance, reduce consumption, increase efficiency and ensure power availability.
However, the benefits of innovation cannot be leveraged to its fullest potential if the power grid is not set up properly, which may lead to redundancies, waste, and safety issues.
Unfortunately, in theater, this is the case more often than not.
In August 2012, CERDEC electrical engineers Noel Pleta and Jennifer Whitmore deployed to Afghanistan in support of Project Manager Mobile Electric Power. There, they served as power assessment engineers on a team responsible for assessing and improving the energy stability of forward-deployed units throughout Afghanistan.
What they found were conditions so poor that they had to overhaul several combat outposts and village stability platforms just to lay a sound power and energy foundation before implementing the new operational energy plans.
“Many of the COPs were on their last leg of generator power causing them to shut down their sustainment of life support systems and focus on the tactical support systems. We found that backup power for tactical operation centers wasn’t consistent. If the TOC goes down, the mission is compromised as well as the soldiers’ safety, and that’s priority. That’s why it’s so important to do it right the first time,” said Pleta.
The assessments – which included a detailed layout of the area, the state of current power sources and power consumption rates – allowed them to tailor optimized power grid plans, design new distribution systems, and replace legacy systems with more efficient equipment.
They also fixed electrical issues that posed safety concerns and implemented energy improvement plans which supported quality of life measures, like dining facilities and latrines.
“Knowing how much energy soldiers need is important, but we also need to know where the redundancies and unnecessary drains exist. We need to view energy requirements as a commodity and focus more on decreasing demand in addition to the efforts to increase supply,” Plichta said.
Power assessments begin with a detailed data collection process that includes a site survey of all the equipment. CERDEC CP&I works closely with PMs and units to gather requirements – such as power distribution systems, layouts, wiring diagrams and existing and projected equipment/assets – and combines these with manufacturer data to help determine their power profile.
This aids in producing solutions with right-sized generator sets and optimized environmental controls, which are particularly important as environmental control units consume 60-70 percent of all energy used at a COP or FOB.
The analysis is used to generate a data base that can be referenced and adjusted going forward.
AutoDise, a planning tool jointly developed by CERDEC CP&I and PM MEP, enables commanders to plan more efficient grids by allowing them to generate virtual before-and-after layouts of COPs, VSPs and FOBs. The user enters relevant data – such as the number of tents, servers, and anything that uses power – and the software projects the overall power/fuel consumption per hour.
But a power assessment is more than just a method to estimate the power consumption of tactical operations centers, platforms and systems; it’s a capability that uniquely positions the R&D community to help the soldier, Pleta said.
“Power assessments allow engineers first-hand experience to see how equipment is used in the field versus how folks in the lab think it is going to be used. They also provide a more accurate load profile that helps in projecting fuel savings and other theoretical calculations. We feed this documentation back into the R&D process so we can chronicle efficiencies, gauge fuel savings and determine the size or type of grid needed.”
Since 2012, CERDEC CP&I has supported PM MEP forward power assessment teams in rebuilding 31 command outposts and 35 village stability platforms in theater. As a result, COPs and VSPs are using more energy efficient generator sets. This has resulted in a 21 percent lower fuel consumption across the fleet. Units are able to log energy/fuel consumption, track maintenance frequency, and note trends.
CERDEC CP&I plans to continue this critical support and provide immediate in-theater solutions as well as continued PM support in this area.
CP&I engineers have also extended power assessments to the soldier in order to collect information regarding the actual individual and squad requirements during a mission. Utilizing these data points as a performance baseline, CP&I engineers will look to identify redundancies and areas where consumption can be reduced.
“We’re uniquely qualified to examine the suite of C4ISR devices that the soldier requires, and we see a gap where we can provide value added by conducting power assessment to validate those requirements,” said Jonathan Novoa, power management thrust lead for the CERDEC CP&I Power Sources branch.
As with the small base power grids, the soldier power assessments will be used to develop novel solutions to lessen the overall soldiers burden.
“We’re looking for ways to manage and decrease the power draw of that equipment through intelligent load management and enhanced situational awareness. We want to enable our soldiers to make energy informed decisions on the battlefield so they can manage the availability and consumption of energy on their person just like they currently do with food and ammunition,” Novoa said.
Power assessments generate vital information that will enable continuous improvement.
“You just don’t get the same experience behind a desk. With each deployment, we increase knowledge regarding the latest challenges facing FOBs, TOCs, COPs and VSPs,” Pleta said. “Most importantly, it allows us to customize user-friendly solutions that will improve safety, reliability and quality of life for the soldier.”
Written by Tara A. Clements, U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Public Affairs
Edited by Jessica L. Tozer
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