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Atlanta Airport Demonstrates Need for Combined Heat & Power (CHP) Microgrid

By Robert Thornton posted 12-19-2017 12:40


Rob Thornton, IDEA

The recent power outage and grid failure affecting Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports, vividly demonstrates the importance of reliable and resilient energy supply for mission-critical facilities.  Even with redundant utility grid feeds, this unfortunate 11-hour blackout led to extensive economic disruption and untold personal inconvenience with nearly 1,600 flights grounded at this critical hub impacting tens of thousands of travelers even beyond Atlanta.

As a safeguard against utility supply failures or grid interruptions, many airports, healthcare and university campuses have installed district energy/combined heat and power systems on their campus, providing greater efficiency and energy reliability year round.  For example,   JFK International (JFK) in New York, Los Angeles International (LAX); Pearson International (YYZ) in Toronto, even smaller Bradley International (BDL) near Hartford, CT have installed combined heat and power or cogeneration, to economically produce both power, heat and cooling for the terminals.  These systems can also be configured as “microgrids” which enable the option to “island” and isolate from the grid to produce their own electricity and thermal energy during extreme weather events or other grid interruptions.  You might recall that Princeton University and New York University both utilized their campus district energy/CHP microgrids to maintain reliable and resilient energy services during the worst weather conditions of Super Storm Sandy in October 2012 that knocked out grid power to over 8.1 million customers across 21 states.

Georgia Power and the City of Atlanta Department of Aviation would be well-served to consider installation of combined heat and power (cogeneration) to modernize and strengthen the Terminal Central Utilities Plant (T-CUP), which was built in 1978 as part of the original Central Passenger Terminal Complex (CPTC) construction.  Dozens of US colleges and universities have evaluated and implemented similar CHP central plant upgrades over the past 20 years with the specific intent to reduce energy costs, increase efficiency and enhance operational resiliency, especially to support highly valuable research activities on campus.  Adding CHP and microgrid capability seems like a prudent investment for one of the nation’s critical transportation hubs.  The 2300 members of the International District Energy Association (IDEA – are standing by to help make it happen.