The United States Air Force (USAF) is the aerial service branch of the United States Armed Forces. Initially under the purview of both the Army and Navy, the USAF became a separate branch of the military in 1947 making it the youngest of the five U.S. military service branches. While the USAF focuses on defending the nation through the control and exploitation of air and space, many of the country’s airmen and airwomen work from the ground supporting missions, protecting base, conducting rescue missions and guarding missile sites. The USAF has utilized Alaska’s secluded and land-rich environment for national security for 75 years.
Located in central Alaska, Clear Air Force Station (AFS) has been a cornerstone of that defense since the 1960s. Since its inception, Clear AFS has produced electricity onsite using a 22.5-megawatt coal-fired power plant. In 2014, plans to shut down the power plant and connect to the Alaskan transmission network began to unfold. In addition to offering significant cost savings, the transition also supports the nation’s environmental priorities.
Modernization of Power
In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Clean Power Plan—a policy focused on reducing emissions from coal-burning power plants by increasing the use of renewable energy solutions and energy conservation. Under this act, the Air Force base could either undergo a total overhaul to an out-of-date power plant or replace it entirely while modernizing the facility. They chose a modernization project, which once fully completed, is estimated to save the Air Force approximately $2.6 million in fiscal year 2016 and $1.9 million each year after.
The project included the installation of an MTU Onsite Energy 1,250 kWe generator set packaged in an Artic-rated, insulated enclosure with subbase fuel tank. Following a competitive bid, Pacific Power Group, an authorized provider of MTU Onsite Energy power solutions, was selected to supply the system to the station. “For an active defense station, reliability and seamless operation are key—which is why MTU Onsite Energy was selected,” said Hans Jensen, sales and project manager at Pacific Power Group. “There’s no question that they can trust their power generation system in the event of an emergency.”
Combating Severe Weather
Alaska is known for its extreme climates. Its geography ranges from open tundra to volcanos and tidewater glaciers. The range of climates varies just as widely—from the mild winters and cool rainy summers in the southeast, to the subarctic climate of the interior. With these weather extremes as a concern, Pacific Power Group packaged the generator set in an Arctic-rated, insulated enclosure with a sub-base fuel tank to protect the system year-round. A recirculating radiator cooling system was also installed to keep the system warm during harsh winters and cool in warm summer temperatures.
Pacific Power Group delivered the unit during the summer of 2015 with delivery of the peripheral equipment rolled out in subsequent months. To facilitate the installation, Pacific Power remained on-site at the base for five weeks to ensure there was no interruption in power to the site.
“We wanted to be on-site during the earlier installation stages to ensure there were no issues,” said Mike Atchley, project manager at Pacific Power Group. “The Clear Air Force Station is responsible for providing defense to our nation so accuracy was and will remain a supreme aspect for us.”
The highly-engineered MTU Onsite Energy 18V 2000 generator set is based on the MTU Series 2000 diesel engine in an 18-cylinder configuration, which is designed exclusively by MTU for power generation applications. The generator set is optimized for high power output in a compact footprint and features an ECU9 engine control unit with increased RAM and processor capacity that delivers four times the speed of earlier ECUs. The generator’s operation is also nearly noiseless as it is packaged.
For Clear Air Force Station, uptime is critical to the defense of the nation. A customized preventive maintenance program was developed to ensure reliability and maximize availability. During Pacific Power’s five-week visit to the base, onsite training on that customized plan was conducted for the mechanics who will provide day-to-day support of the generator set system.'
“Our training programs are designed to arm customers with best practices in maintenance and repair while ensuring customers are comfortable with, and fully trained on, their new technology,” said Al Prosser, director of sales at MTU Onsite Energy.
Trainees became familiar with all of the power system components, alarm conditions and operation, as well as standard preventive maintenance procedures. Fuel storage, fuel delivery, starting batteries, engine coolant heaters and airflow are critical subsystems that were also covered in detail during training.
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