New Jersey officials this week said the state’s Board of Public Utilities is funding feasibility studies for a series of microgrids across the state that could provide needed power to municipalities at times of critical need, such as after a natural disaster.

The board said the idea is designed to further the State Energy Master Plan (EMP). A priority of the EMP is improving energy resiliency across the state. Richard Mroz, the board president, said the group’s Town Center Distributed Energy Resource (DER) Microgrid program would fund feasibility studies for 13 proposed microgrids, including for Atlantic City, Hoboken and Trenton.

Mroz announced the program during a July 5 tour of Veolia’s Trenton Thermal Energy District Network (TEDN), the technology hub for a proposed microgrid in downtown Trenton, the state capital. The Trenton microgrid would provide power to keep state government offices, including the State House, and key state government services functioning in the event of widespread power loss after a natural disaster or other incident.

“A distributed generation facility in downtown Trenton would improve resiliency by reducing the potential for grid failures related to major weather events or other causes from impacting critical government services,” Bill Golubinski, manager of energy initiatives for the state’s Division of Property Management and Construction, said in a statement.

Trenton Central Business District Served by TEDN

The TEDN is a combined heat and power (CHP) thermal facility serving about 35 customers in Trenton’s central business district. It provides about 6 MW of cogeneration capacity along with hot water and chilled water to customers. Veolia officials said additional generation capacity could be provided through solar, more dispatchable generation such as CHP, and via new electric infrastructure to provide more power under both normal and emergency operating conditions.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration said energy resiliency needed to be improved in the state in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012, which made landfall at Atlantic City and devastated more than 100 miles of the state’s coastline, causing massive flooding and widespread power outages.

Mike Henderson (left), Director of Plant Operations Trenton for Veolia North America, talks with Richard Mroz (middle), president of the Board of Public Utilities for the state of New Jersey, and Bill Golubinski, manager of energy initiatives for the state, during a tour of Veolia's Trenton Thermal Energy thing.
Mike Henderson (left), Director of Plant Operations Trenton for Veolia North America, talks with Richard Mroz (middle), president of the Board of Public Utilities for the state of New Jersey, and Bill Golubinski, manager of energy initiatives for the state’s Division of Management and Construction, during a tour of Veolia’s Trenton Thermal Energy District Network on July 5, 2017. Courtesy: Veolia

“After Sandy, our board spent considerable time looking at existing infrastructure that could support the buildout of a microgrid,” Mroz told POWER in a phone interview on July 7. “We have been mapping infrastructure suitable for this, to determine the feasibility for a full buildout.”

Mroz noted the Trenton project capitalizes on existing infrastructure, including a thermal loop that has been in operation “since the 1980s. Other [proposed projects] will seek to leverage the infrastructure already there. There is existing CHP [combined heat and power] in Atlantic City [the Midtown Thermal Control Center], and a number of these will capitalize on existing infrastructure.”

Mroz said the feasibility studies will help the state explore several of its energy issues.

“We have looked at it in terms of exploring opportunities for resiliency,” he said. “We know the grid is evolving, and there are technological issues that will force that, and this gives us the opportunity across the state in all our service territories to explore this and determine what we need to do. Our efforts will look at actual operational and technical feasibility, as well as any statutory or regulatory changes that are needed.”

Mroz said the studies could be finished by the end of this year, but a second phase of study that includes design and cost analysis will be needed. He said he anticipates any in-service date is at least “a couple of years out.”

DER Feasibility Study

The Board of Public Utilities originally set up the DER feasibility study with a $1 million budget, but after evaluating 13 applications for proposed microgrids, it increased that budget to more than $2 million. The board has approved applications from: Atlantic City, Camden County, Cape May County MUA, Galloway Township, Highland Park, Hoboken, Hudson County, Middletown Township, Montclair Township, Neptune Township, Paterson, Woodbridge Township, and the state Treasury Department in partnership with Mercer County, the Mercer County Improvement Authority and the city of Trenton.

Other U.S. cities have previously invested in microgrid projects. In Potsdam, N.Y., local utility National Grid partnered with GE, nearby Clarkson University, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, Colo., to build the Potsdam Resilient Underground Microgrid,
a system that would power the area as needed. The Potsdam area is prone to ice storms and other severe winter weather. Power from the microgrid can be accessed at all times, not just in emergency situations. Power from the microgrid can be sold on the open market (that is not the case with the New Jersey projects due to state regulations) and distributed to the state grid by National Grid when not needed by town customers who opt into the project.

Fremont, Calif., home to Tesla, teamed with Gridscape Solutions on a project for a microgrid serving three fire stations there. The stations are in proximity to the Hayward Fault line and the city wants power resiliency in the event of an earthquake.

San Francisco, about an hour from Fremont and no stranger to earthquakes, in 2015 received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar Market Pathways Program to integrate energy storage, including solar, into its emergency response plans. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) signed on to the project.

-Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)