The US Marine Corps was an early adopter of solar power, and now it has a new feather in its cap. An 11-megawatt energy storage system just cranked up at US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, complementing an existing 13-megawatt solar array. The solar-plus-storage system is the largest of its kind in the state. It’s also a poke in the eye for State, who has been on a tear against ESG investing of late.
Who’s Afraid Of The ESG?
For those of you new to the topic, ESG is shorthand for the environment, social, and governance principles that are becoming standard operating procedure for US businesses in the 21st century. Decarbonization is a leading aim of the environmental leg of the stool.
The decarbonization angle explains why fossil energy advocates and their allies have been railing against “woke capitalism” and ESG investing. Neverthless, the US Department of Defense has also adopted elements of ESG, particularly with a focus on decarbonization.
During the Obama administration, military facilities became early adopters of large-scale solar arrays, spurring interest among private sector investors. Various branches of the Armed Services also began introducing solar devices for operational use including portable canopies, self-assembling tents, backpacks, fold-out solar panels, and microgrids enabled by renewable energy, helping to grow the civilian market for solar-enabled devices.
US DOD Hearts Energy Storage
On the energy storage side, early efforts included the Air Force, which applied its Advanced Power Technology Office at the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop something called the Advanced Energy Storage and Management System. Launched in 2013, the effort was aimed at demonstrating the deployment of energy storage systems with wind or solar energy for 24/7 reliability.
The Trump administration put a damper on things for a while, but the energy storage stage was already set through a sprawling suite of programs under the US Department of Energy and its network of national laboratories. One example is Argonne National Laboratory, which launched the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science in 2015.
The program was initially positioned as a technology accelerator for businesses and industry. It also has a national defense mission. “Unlike commercial applications, storage solutions for national security missions must provide reliable, energy-dense performance under extreme conditions,” Argonne explains.
On the military side, the multi-faceted program includes improving the energy density of batteries for light weight and portability, deploying energy storage to resolve grid security issues, and deploying energy storage with renewable energy for remote monitoring systems.
More Energy Storage For The US Marine Corps
The grid security issue is front and center in the new energy storage system for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, which was developed under the umbrella of the energy firm Duke Energy.
As described in a Duke press release last week, the new 11-megawatt battery-type energy storage system can be operated independently from the existing solar array at Lejeune, which revved up operations in 2015. However, the plan is evidently focused on coordinating the storage system with the solar array as often as possible.
The initial plan also involves connecting both projects to a Duke Energy substation, meaning that all those clean kilowatts will flow into the grid operated by Duke Energy’s Progress branch. Duke also hinted that future plans could involve deploying the solar-plus-storage systems to shield Lejuene against grid power outages. Both of the systems are located on land situated within the camp.
“Integration of the solar plant with a battery energy storage system, unthinkable a decade ago, presents the installation with a number of opportunities to achieve energy resilience objectives,” explained U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ross Campbell, the director of Public Works at Lejeune.
All That Hard Work Pays Off
Also unthinkable a decade ago is the large-scale deployment of the battery chemistry at work in the new energy storage system. Duke describes it as a lithium iron phosphate platform, or LFP for short.
If that rings a bell, it should. LFP chemistry dates back to 1996. Its invention is credited to Denis Geoffroy, who made it in the course of helping a Canadian company called Phostech Lithium scale up their operations. The electric vehicle trend offered some market potential in the early 2000s, but interest in LFP for EV batteries was soon eclipsed by higher-performing battery materials, namely nickel and cobalt.
Nevertheless, research on iron-based batteries continued apace. The Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory was among those picking up the iron battery torch in 2015. The US Army also chipped in for follow-on iron battery research at Brookhaven, published in 2018.
Meanwhile, the cost of nickel and cobalt has gone up, and automakers are more wary of supply chain issues involving ethical mining practices and dependence on China, leading Ford and other EV makers on a scramble into the LFP field (check out our complete coverage here).
Woke Or Not, Energy Storage Is Here To Stay
The Lejeune project indicates that the LFP formula is already catching on for stationary energy storage, and Duke for one is a fan.
“The company plans to continue investing in battery technology over the next few years,” Duke explains, with an eye towards adding more than 1,600 megawatts of energy storage to its roster, which currently hovers at the 90-megawatt mark.
Evidently, North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s campaign against ESG investing has failed to to convince Duke that decarbonization is a bad thing.
On December 14, the editorial board of the Charlotte Observer criticized Folwell for joining Republican officials in 20 or so other states who have pushing back against the ESG advocacy of the leading investment firm BlackRock.
“In a press release, Folwell cited a loss of confidence in BlackRock’s leadership due to its focus on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing — something that Folwell, quoting Tesla CEO Elon Musk, called “wacktivism,” the Observer board wrote.
In a press release dated December 9, Folwell did indeed bash BlackRock and its high profile CEO, Larry Fink, for “using the financial power of their clients to force the global warming agenda.”
For all his posturing, though, Folwell also joins a growing list of Republican officials who should check their own backyards for ESG before throwing stones. Between Marine Corps Base Camp Leujeune and Duke Energy, North Carolina is now a national showcase for LFP batteries and solar-plus-storage systems, regardless of how many press releases Folwell pumps out.
“We believe generating electricity from renewable resources will play an increasingly important role in the transition to cleaner energy. So, we’re developing innovative renewable energy projects to serve our customers as well as other utilities, businesses and communities throughout the United States,” Duke states, indicating that it has a plan to spread its innovations far and wide.
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Image: Renewable energy at USMC Base Camp Lejeune courtesy of US Marine Corps.
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