US competition seeks new ways of "stockpiling" green energy


The program is being launched collaboratively with the Department of Defense, which just this month announced White House-mandated plans to deploy three gigawatts of renewable energy – including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal – on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025. Together with emerging microgrid and storage technologies, reliable, local sources of renewable power will be used to increase the energy security of U.S. military installations.

The new "Advanced Management and Protection of Energy-storage Devices" (AMPED) program will seek out leading- edge energy storage technologies that are too risky for private-sector investment, but have the potential to translate science into quantum leaps in energy technology, form the foundation for entirely new industries, and have large commercial impacts.

"Innovation is our nation’s sweet spot, and it is critically important that we look at every possible energy solution in order to ensure America’s future prosperity and security," said DOE Secretary Stephen Chu. "Through the AMPED competition, we are charging our nation’s best and brightest to develop more effective energy storage technologies, which are used in everything from cell phones to electric vehicles to high-powered military equipment."

Building U.S. military ‘power'

ARPA-E’s AMPED program will promote the development of next-generation energy storage sensing and control technologies, for civilian and military operations, including enhancing the performance of hybrid energy storage modules being developed by the DOD for war-fighting equipment.

Specifically, AMPED technologies have the potential to:

  • Increase the fuel efficiency of military generators to help reduce the need for fuel convoys on the battlefield;
  • Improve the reliability of military aircraft generators to help to reduce operation and maintenance costs;
  • Enable next-generation high-power weapons systems and fuel-efficient operations for Navy ships;
  • Create a new generation of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles; and
  • Enhance the efficiency and reliability of the U.S. electricity grid.

The results of the competition will add to efforts already underway. Speaking at the the GovEnergy Conference in Cincinnati last year, Army Secretary John M. McHugh said that the Army, alone already has more than 125 renewable energy projects in operation at its installations, including a major solar project at Fort Irwin, California, that, once completed, will stretch across an area the size of Manhattan in New York City.

"We think we’ve made a great start," he said, citing initiatives that include microgrids, photovoltaics, and natural gas. "But to meet our longer-term objectives," he added, "we have to do better."

To date, ARPA-E has hosted four rounds of competitions and attracted over 5,000 applications from research teams, Since President Obama launched ARPA-E in 2009, ARPA-E has invested over $500 million in 12 programs, which has resulted in about 180 groundbreaking projects. This month’s announcement represents ARPA-E’s third funding opportunity for 2012. Demonstrating the success ARPA-E has already seen, the department announced last year that 11 of its projects secured more than $200 million in outside private capital investment after initial funding from its programs.

Next generation solutions

In the "dark ages" of television (1950s-1970s), there were no videocassette recorders (VCRs) or digital video recorders (DVRs). If several "must-watch" series were scheduled during the same time slot, your mom and dad would hem and haw, or flip a coin – and somehow settle on one show. In the middle of the night, there was nothing on the screen except a test pattern. There was no storage; there was no going back.

Since then, the way we watch TV has changed forever. With the rapid adoption of video storage technology, the industry has expanded exponentially, and consumers have enjoyed more choices and flexibility on a daily basis.

But just as history repeats itself, so too does product innovation. Today, the same scenario is playing out in the energy industry. We have developed next-generation solutions, which are destined to make power distribution more reliable and easier to control, but we need new methods of stockpiling the power we generate, so that we can access what we need, when we need it.

Among the major challenges will be finding a way to safely and conveniently store the "intermittent generation" of solar and wind power plants, so that excess energy can be amassed for use during peak electricity demand hours, as well as during power outages. In addition, the industry is waiting for a breakthrough in auxiliary battery technology for electric vehicles, to help eliminate pain at the pump, as well as demand-response issues and range anxiety.

Change is coming in the form of disruptive, breakthrough energy storage technology – and it will be here sooner, rather than later, if the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense are successful in their current efforts.

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