In the wake of widespread power outages due to Hurricane Sandy, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) was able to keep the lights and heat on without reliance on the power grid.
It’s been a couple of weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard of the US, causing power outages for over 8 million utility customers. But thanks to their combined heat and power (CHP) district energy system, the lights stayed on at The College of New Jersey campus.
“When the hurricane warnings became more and more threatening, we couldn’t take any chances,” said Lori Winyard, Director, Energy and Central Facilities at TCNJ. “Combined heat and power allowed our central plant to operate in island mode without compromising our power supply.”
Joe Sullivan, Vice President, Energy Policy and Development at Concord Engineering, a member of IDEA, became concerned when he saw a 26 kV line down in the vicinity of the College in the aftermath of the hurricane. “As former facilities director for TCNJ, I contacted Lori right away to see how their power fared during the hurricane,” he said. “It was great to hear that due to their central plant being powered by CHP, they didn’t have any issues and could concentrate on what they do best, educating students.” TCNJ continued operating in “island mode,” off the grid, until their 26 kV line was repaired by the utility company.
A CHP (or cogeneration) system can effectively and reliably generate useful heat and electric power “on site” with twice the efficiency and using less fuel than a typical system that generates power only. CHP systems offer tremendous opportunities for customers with predictable and consistent heat and power needs—particularly large commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities. CHP provides the potential for significant economic savings and reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, as Sandy so well illustrated, another advantage of CHP has come to light—reliability.
Converting today’s electric power grid into one strong enough to survive the impact of severe weather begins by understanding where and why lights stayed on. Princeton University has also been grateful to its central plant’s cogeneration equipment and released a video on YouTube explaining how it was able to tackle the intense storm that crippled much of the state’s power supplies. (See also Princeton University Powers on through Hurricane Sandy and Sandy meets the Orange Bubble.)
Distributed energy resources like gas turbines and natural gas-fueled reciprocating engines are becoming increasingly competitive with grid power on both a cost and reliability basis. When they are fueled by natural gas, their emissions are much lower than traditional diesel-fueled standby generation and the surplus of shale gas in the US is keeping natural gas prices low. As an added benefit, the natural gas “grid” of pipelines is more storm resistant than the electric grid.
Said Concord CEO Michael Fischette, “The public sector and utilities should seriously consider programs to rapidly deploy distributed energy resources. Onsite generation is a short term complement to the massive planned upgrades to the transmission and distribution grid. Both are necessary to ensure reliable power. Through direct investment, engineering assistance for utility customers, loans or other financing options, and changes to local building codes, our power generation infrastructure can be better equipped to literally weather the storm.”