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New York pursues microgrids for widespread resiliency

<p>Reinventing the state grid, the NYPA focuses on 7 projects to keep hospitals open, prisons secure and other critical functions working during outages.</p>

The New York Power Authority is poised for a "sea change," and microgrids are part of the transformation, according to Gil Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO.

In an interview this week, Quiniones described how the authority — the nation's largest public power organization — is reinventing itself as New York moves toward a more distributed grid.

"The investments that we will make, and the technology choices that we will decide over the next 10 years, will determine what NYPA and what the grid will look like over the next 40 years," he said.

For decades. NYPA has been largely a hydroelectricity operator. Now the authority is in the midst of a five-year, $3 billion makeover, developing what it calls smart generation and transmission (G&T) to improve resiliency and efficiency of its traditional supply and add more local energy.

"Our customers have been clamoring to have more control over how they use the energy that we sell to them," he said. "We've done energy efficiency in the past because it is a mandate. Now it is really more customer-driven. Energy efficiency, demand response, renewables, solar, combined heat and power, microgrids — you are going to see NYPA do more and more of those."

Seven microgrids in the works

Quiniones described seven microgrid projects that NYPA has in various stages of planning, development and construction.

NYPA has installed a 15-MW gas-fired CHP system on Riker's Island that is set to go into operation soon. Adjacent to LaGuardia Airport, Riker's Island houses a prison with a population of about 15,000 inmates and workers.

"If there is another blackout in New York, Riker's Island will be up and running," he said.

The authority also has been asked by Governor Andrew Cuomo to study the feasibility of developing a microgrid for Red Hook, a public housing complex of 2,800 apartments in Brooklyn. Red Hook is particularly vulnerable to storms because it is on the waterfront.

Credit: Norman Walsh via FlickrThe study will analyze various possible local energy sources for the Red Hook microgrid, among them CHP, emergency generators, wind, or solar energy. NYPA expects to complete the study early next year. The project could lead to additional microgrid development by the New York Housing Authority for its more than 334 public housing developments.

NYPA also is looking at developing five other microgrids, three up state and two down state. "We target public facilities like universities, hospitals, housing, prisons," he said.

As NYPA pursues microgrids, it hopes to build projects large enough so that they can serve not only main complexes, but also the adjacent communities, what Quiniones calls "Main Street." The idea is to serve nearby communities by powering their critical facilities, such as police stations and shelters, during a power outage.

"We're also targeting campuses that can be facilities of refuge if there is another Sandy," he added.

The authority expects to complete feasibility studies on the five microgrids in six to eight months. Those that pass muster will be built soon after under a turnkey process. NYPA will offer financing and handle the projects from initial analysis through commissioning and possibly operations. The microgrids will be built by both in-house staff and pre-screened contractors.

Creating the 'apps' for the new grid

The authority this week also announced plans to launch the state's first energy management network operations center, which will provide real-time energy use data for public facilities statewide. Quiniones described the energy monitoring system as "akin to having a continuous MRI" on state facilities, collecting constant data to find ways to eke out maximum efficiency.

Called the NY Energy Manager (NYEM), it will be housed at the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany. The center will report data for 3,000 public buildings that encompass hundreds of millions of square feet. Eventually, it may be expanded for use by additional public buildings and other NYPA customers.

The data collection center, along with NYPA's reinvention of its missions, dovetail with a strategy the state is forming to create a distributed energy grid. Known as Reforming the Energy Vision or REV, the plan is now under review before the state Public Service Commission.

"We're really changing the rules of the road and telling utilities that they should modernize their grid to foster the connections of all of these distributed resources," he said. Utilities are now rewarded for investing in capital — transmission lines, substations and the like — in areas where there is load growth. Under the REV plan, utilities will receive financial reward if they encourage distributed resources when they prove to be the less expensive than the central investments, he said.

"It's almost like they (the utilities) are the iPad and what they need to do is to encourage the private energy service companies to develop various apps that the iPad can use. From NYPA's perspective, for our set of customers we want to help develop those apps, so that we can help our customers in this new environment," he said.

Top image of NYC flare during post-Sandy blackout by Michael Tapp via Flickr. This article first appeared at Microgrid Knowledge.

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