Knowledge of Power Is More Power

By February 10, 2014Science and Technology
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Assessments enable commanders to optimize energy, operational effectiveness


By Edric Thompson


When it comes to power and energy, Army research and development (R&D) 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 their 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, the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (CERDEC) electrical engineers Noel Pleta and Jennifer Whitmore deployed to Afghanistan in support of Project Manager Mobile Electric Power (PdM MEP) where 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 (COPs) and village stability platforms (VSPs) 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 [TOCs] wasn’t consistent. If the TOC goes down, the mission is compromised as well as the Soldiers’ safety, and that’s a 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, replace legacy systems with more efficient equipment, fix electrical issues that posed safety concerns and implement energy improvement plans that supported quality of life measures such as dining facilities and latrines.

For 13 years, the CERDEC Command, Power & Integration (CP&I) Directorate has used its in-house government expertise in support of PdM MEP to perform approximately 100 power assessments, both inside and outside of the United States, for the Army, Navy and Marines. This work has supported TOCs, COPs, VSPs, combat support hospitals, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) platforms and technologies and other military tools that require power.

During this time, CERDEC CP&I has developed a unique set of assessment capabilities and methodologies that not only inform commanders, but help them to design, build and implement optimized tactical power grids.

“Successful missions require us to consider energy from planning through execution. Power assessments enable commanders to improve operational effectiveness by understanding how to optimize power requirements,” said Edward Plichta, Power Division chief for CERDEC CP&I.

“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 and 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 forward operating base (FOB). Analysts use the assessments to generate a database that can be referenced and adjusted to the solution set or assessment if further optimization is required.

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 and fuel consumption per hour.

“It can also determine power distribution configurations, the cables that would be required for wiring and whether units are utilizing the existing generator set properly,” Pleta said. “We’re training instructors at Fort Lee [Virginia] so they can teach Soldiers and generator mechanics on how to use this unique capability in theater. Meanwhile, we’re beta testing version 7.0 now and hope to release the upgrades next year.”

CERDEC CP&I engineers then generate and implement an optimized solution set that includes the AutoDise layouts, equipment lists and fielding plans—all of which can be adjusted as needed. Everything from before-after configurations to the types of equipment on site is documented and rolled up into a report that is given to the unit, providing the commander a full record of system layouts should he choose to the duplicate system.

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,” Pleta said.

Since 2012, CERDEC CP&I has supported PM MEP forward power assessment teams in rebuilding 31 COPs and 35 VSPs in theater. As a result of CERDEC team efforts with PM MEP, COPs and VSPs are using more energy efficient generator sets, which has reduced fuel consumption across the fleet by 21 percent . Units are able to log energy and fuel consumption, track maintenance frequency and note trends.

“The smaller bases in theater sometimes have poorly managed power sources and improper or unsafe electrical distribution. The equipment modifications resulting from CERDEC-supported assessments have led to significant savings in acquisition and operational savings during this period. In one example, a COP that was totally dependent on aerial resupply saved 93 gallons of fuel per day. This is equivalent to 42 air drops of 800 gallons each. CERDEC personnel were critical to the successful completion of this PM MEP effort,” said Christopher Bolton, chief for PM MEP’s Technical Management Division.

CERDEC CP&I will 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. Using these data points as a performance baseline, CP&I engineers will 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.

(Tara Clements contributed to this article)