The challenge was to take a facility that was far off the grid, and move it forward as an energy self-sufficient complex while also turning an idea into a commercially viable product. That was the impetus behind Caterpillar’s microgrid technology at the company’s Tucson Proving Ground testing facility in Arizona. The integrated solar and generator set system has been honored with POWERmagazine’s inaugural Commercial and Industrial Generation Award.
Finding a solution to a problem is often at the heart of innovation. The old adage, “There has to be a better way,” can be the driving force for a process that results not only in a short-term fix but also in a longer-term way to satisfy an existing market need.
That’s how it is with Caterpillar. The company may be best-known for manufacturing large equipment to aid construction projects, but it also has brought forth several technological innovations to help businesses in a variety of industries worldwide. When it was time to build a solution to solve a problem at one of the company’s own facilities, Caterpillar simply looked to its own team to find answers.
The project involved Caterpillar’s Tucson Proving Ground (TPG). The site, covering some 6,400 acres about 30 miles southwest of Tucson, Ariz., in an area known as Green Valley and adjacent to the Freeport-McMoRan Sierrita Copper Mine, is used for testing and validation along with product demonstration and training work for Caterpillar’s largest machines, such as those used by the mining industry. It is one of three such facilities Caterpillar operates worldwide.
The TPG, operated by Caterpillar’s Surface Mining and Technology (SM&T) division, opened in June 1990. (Caterpillar previously operated its Arizona Proving Ground in Litchfield Park, west of Phoenix, from 1945 to 1989.) The site is ideal for field trials of Caterpillar’s large equipment, but it is too remote to easily connect to a power grid, with the nearest service about eight miles away.