The Defense Department is testing using electric cars, when they are not being driven, as batteries to power lamps and TVs. Above, Derrick Kuzak, Ford Group vice president of global product development, discusses the Ford Focus electric vehicle at the Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Assembly Plant Dec. 14, 2011, in Wayne, Mich. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)
The Defense Department is testing a novel idea: pressing electric cars, when they are not being driven, into service as batteries to power lamps and TVs.
The idea is to regulate the vehicles’ power usage more carefully and return unused power in the vehicles to the civilian grid.
For Pentagon officials, this translates into dollar signs.
Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said some DoD projections show the revenue from utility companies for the returned power could completely offset the vehicles’ costs.
“It could mean we get the vehicles at no cost, which — if we are able to — would change the industry and would certainly help the American public,” Hammack said.
At Los Angeles Air Force Base, the Air Force is replacing 43 gas- and diesel-powered vehicles with electric versions and building charging stations that allow the electric vehicles to send energy back into the grid. The project will be running by August for at least a year while the Defense Department gathers data and gauges the program’s effectiveness, said Camron Gorguinpour, special assistant to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.
Gorguinpour said each vehicle in the plug-in electric vehicle program could bring in as much as $7,300 a year using this technique. The vehicles include passenger cars, trucks and buses, ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 in purchase cost.
DoD is expanding the $20 million program to five other installations: Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
The projects will come online by the end of the year, according to Gorguinpour. If they show positive results, the program will be expanded to include 30 installations across the country — with 1,500 electric vehicles in all.
After that, DoD will decide how to further expand the program.
“If it’s true that we can knock off thousands of dollars a year on a leased vehicle, it makes an awfully compelling case to move forward much more broadly,” Gorguinpour said.
Richard Kidd, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for energy and sustainability, said the challenge is to make sure the electric vehicles are parked and plugged in when and where they need to be.
“All this will pay for itself if we can discharge the truck at the right time,” Kidd said.
The Army also is working with electric vehicles to help make Fort Carson, Colo., more energy independent in the event the civilian grid fails.
Harold Sanborn, the research and development program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers and the technical lead for the Smart Power and Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security project, said electric vehicles can be used to help extend the time Fort Carson can remain independent of the grid.
The electric vehicles plug in to a “microgrid” — a miniature replica of the larger commercial power grid that generates and transmits energy from multiple sources and allows an installation to decide how much energy goes to any individual building or system.
“In the event of an energy outage, they would be plugged back into their charging station and would be given the ability to discharge that energy,” Sanborn said.
The electric vehicles would be used in combination with diesel generators and solar panels at the installation, according to Sanborn.
DoD is working to meet a number of mandates, including reducing petroleum use in its nontactical vehicle fleet by 20 percent from a 2005 baseline by fiscal 2015, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and purchasing more environmentally friendly vehicles.