Summary:

Viridity Energy is competing for a Defense Department contract to control power use at federal and military facilities, and has already signed up one military base customer. That’s a big prize for a startup, if it can scale to match its demands.

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Updated. Viridity Energy has a new target for its microgrid and energy market technology: U.S. military bases. On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania-based startup, one of the 10 Big Ideas companies at our Green:Net conference, said it has earned the right to compete with other demand response providers to control power use to help balance the grid at federal and military facilities around the country, and the company is already supplying its microgrid tech to one (undisclosed) military site.

The deal with DOD’s Defense Logistics Agency Energy (DLA Energy) calls for Viridity to find ways to pay for something many military bases are already doing: becoming energy-independent. Right now, DLA Energy has about 50 sites feeding back a combined 160 MW of demand response — turning down power loads at factories, offices and homes to help the grid in peak demand times — and has earned about $2.4 million in credits as a result. With Tuesday’s announcement, Viridity will be one of several companies now qualified to add more bases and their megawatts to that equation.

Viridity, which raised $14 million from Intel Capital and Braemar Energy in January, said it would start its first military base demand response project in June. It didn’t disclose dollar values for the deal or how much demand response capacity it was targeting. Of course, the military describes the benefits in terms of “savings,” since taxpayers end up paying the bill. The federal government is the biggest energy consumer in the country, and it is under multiple mandates to make its buildings more energy efficient and grid-connected.

That’s where Viridity comes in. The startup, led by Audrey Zibelman, former chief operating officer of big mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM, has about a dozen projects underway, including several university campus microgrids, a train braking power-to-battery storage system project with SEPTA in Philadelphia, a wind power storage management project with Thomas Jefferson University in Pennsylvania, and an integration role with the multi-billion Tres Amigas transmission hub in New Mexico.

Viridity’s software helps connect building energy meters and controls, HVAC and lighting systems, distributed power sources like rooftop solar panels and backup generators, and other on-site sources into a single platform, represented in energy and dollar terms. But the software also connects with grid operators, energy markets and demand response interfaces to seek the highest prices for those deferred power purchases as power prices rise and fall throughout the day.

Being able to interact with energy markets is going to be critical as most of the country moves demand response from its current mish-mash of programs to a market-based system, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered last month. Demand response has traditionally been done separately from energy markets, but in the next two years, the two are going to become increasingly intertwined.

Most demand response will probably come from the private sector. Still, military bases represent an interesting test case for the industry, since they’re building some of the most advanced “microgrid” systems out there, with all kinds of power backup to keep them running during blackouts. Most private microgrids, on the other hand, are old-fashioned industrial power backup systems that lack full integration with the smart grid. While the microgrid industry was worth about $4 billion last year, according to Pike Research SBI Energy, few are equipped to integrate with new smart grid and demand response platforms.

Most military microgrids are built to be islands of power stability, rather than integrated parts of the larger power grid. The U.S. Marine Corps’ Twentynine Palms base in California, which is being outfitted to run independently of the power grid by General Electric, is one example. Eaton is also working on a grant-funded military microgrid research project. Last month, the Department of Defense said it would work with the Energy Department’s ARPA-E program to figure out how to generate and store power at more than 500 military installations around the world.

Then there’s a movable microgrid, which is about as “micro” as you can get. Last week, on-site power generation and management company PowerSecure announced the commissioning of its “Smart Charging Micro-Grid” for the U.S. Army, which is a platform meant to control generators, solar panels, plug-in vehicles and all that power-sucking equipment the modern Army uses in remote field encampments.

Image courtesy of wrenoud via Creative Commons license.

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