DOE and New Jersey Developing First US Transit System Microgrid

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Microgrids are being deployed across America’s military bases to make them more resilient and secure, so why shouldn’t the same approach be taken when rebuilding civilian infrastructure destroyed by severe weather?

As of this week, the answer may be this – they are. The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will partner with New Jersey to share military microgrid best practices and develop a conceptual plan for the first-ever transit system microgrid as part of Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.

A $1 million dollar federal grant will fund design of NJ TransitGrid, a microgrid spanning rail lines and facilities across New Jersey Transit’s (NJT) busy northeastern corridor between Newark and New York City, and will ensure the trains keep running even if the centralized grid goes off the rails.

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Microgrids Key To Resilient Communities

It’s an understatement to say Sandy devastated New Jersey and changed the Northeast region’s outlook toward extreme weather and resilient communities. Many parts of the Garden State’s grid were without power for weeks and NJT sustained an estimated $400 million in damages.

Losing NJT was a huge blow to regional relief and evacuation efforts. Beyond being America’s third-largest transportation system and serving nearly 900,000 passengers daily, the stretch of rail covered by NJ TransitGrid is both an important access point to Manhattan and one of the most at-risk from flooding.

NJ TransitGrid announcement
NJ TransitGrid announcement photo via New Jersey Governor’s Office

As New Jersey rebounds from Sandy, state government officials have made the smart decision to rebuild resilient communities. “This first-of-its-kind electrical microgrid will supply highly reliable power during storms and help keep our public transportation systems running,” said Governor Chris Christie. “It’s critical not only to our economy, but also emergency and evacuation-related activities.”

50MW Eventual System Capacity

While NJ TransitGrid is still just a concept without a target start date, DOE Secretary Moniz said the system’s total generation capacity will eventually exceed 50 megawatts (MW) and state officials expect it to cover NJT stations between Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken.

Existing railroad rights-of-way could be used to connect distributed generation from small wind, solar photovoltaics, and fuel cells to elevated power substations and energy storage, all managed by smart grid technologies to integrate renewables and “island” the transit system in case the region grid goes down. These enhancements would augment NJT’s existing Sandy recovery efforts, and the microgrid will tie into regional power systems during normal operations.

Energy Surety Microgrid diagram
Energy Surety Microgrid diagram via Sandia National Laboratories

In theory, NJ TransitGrid would apply best practices learned from microgrid deployments at more than 20 military bases across America to existing civilian infrastructure. Through the DOE agreement, Sandia National Laboratories will work with New Jersey state agencies to design the microgrid using the Energy Surety Design Methodology (ESDM), a quantitative risk-based assessment tool.

ESDM evaluates the specific needs of individual communities to identify solutions to improve reliability and resiliency of grids in the most cost-effective ways to complete system upgrades.

A New Microgrid Model for America?

North America already dominates the global microgrid market, but ultimately this collaborative process applying military microgrid technologies to civilian infrastructure could become a paradigm for civilian climate resiliency projects across America

“I think it’ll be a model for the country,” said Governor Christie. “People across the country that have either been affected by natural disasters or have not yet faced that kind of problem will benefit from the technology we develop here.”

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