CHP Kept Schools, Hospitals Running Amid Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Timeline

After Hurricane Sandy hit the Caribbean Oct. 22, it swept the entire eastern seaboard. It made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J. and surged in New York City on Oct. 29, flooding subway lines and cutting power across the region.

Above photo: Princeton University energy plant; view full gallery.

While Hurricane Sandy blew the lights out across much of New York City and the shorelines of New Jersey and Connecticut, some facilities in these areas stayed lit and warm through the use of combined heat and power (CHP).

CHP systems enabled buildings, hospitals, and entire campuses to retain full heat and power – even after losing grid-supplied electricity. This not only enabled these facilities to maintain critical operations during and after the storm, but also relieved the storm-stressed grid as electric utilities struggled to restore services.

CHP’s Role in Superstorm Sandy

Combined heat and power, also called cogeneration, is a suite of technologies that generate electricity and thermal energy together from a single fuel source at or close to the point of use. Unlike conventional electricity generation, CHP systems recover heat waste to provide heating and/or cooling.

Facilities with CHP often still purchase a portion of electricity from their electric utility as necessary after the CHP system has met its thermal loads. However, when facilities are faced with power failures, they can independently generate much if not all of their critically required electricity and heating needs.

“The immense benefit of CHP was wonderfully demonstrated during Hurricane Sandy where many facilities with CHP kept the lights and heat on during and after the storm," Houston Advanced Research Center’s Gavin Dillingham said in a recent newsletter.

Such facilities included housing complexes, as well as university and hospital campuses.

CHP at an Apartment Complex in the Bronx

Video: The moment the power went out in Manhattan (fast forward to 1:00).

Home to more than 50,000 residents, Co-op City is the largest housing development in the United States. The cooperative sits on 330 acres in the Bronx and includes 14,000 apartment units, 35 high-rise buildings, six schools, three shopping centers, and its own police precinct. It also has a 40 megawatt CHP plant (which consists of two natural gas-fired turbines, two steam generators, a steam turbine, and an auxiliary boiler). That onsite cogeneration usually supplies Co-op City's residential and auxiliary electric load, and was able to power the entire complex when the storm surge and gale force winds brought down the surrounding area's electric grid.

“Hurricane Sandy hit Co-op City about as hard as it hit most anywhere else in New York City, but everybody in Co-op City had power before, during and after the storm, ” Herb Freedman, a principal of Co-op City's management company, told Forbes Magazine.

Princeton University’s CHP

On normal days, a 15-megawatt cogeneration plant provides all the steam and about half the electricity for Princeton University's New Jersey campus; the local utility provides the rest of the electricity. Princeton’s 18-year-old plant uses a natural gas-fired turbine that makes steam to warm the campus. When the power grid went out during Hurricane Sandy, Princeton disconnected from the grid and ran its “microgrid” to power the whole campus (Princeton reconnected to the public grid four days later).

“CHP is used predominantly in industrial applications, but as is evident with the Princeton example, CHP serves as a cost-effective solution for heating and cooling for commercial buildings and institutions like universities,” wrote Christina Nyquist in the American Gas Association blog.

Nearby New York University did the same thing, going into “island mode” with its cogeneration plant when most of lower Manhattan blacked out.

CHP at a Hospital in Long Island

Along with other hospitals in the tri-state region, South Oaks Hospital on Long Island drew full power from its CHP plant during Hurricane Sandy. Seeing the impending emergency, South Oaks engineers proactively isolated the 350,000 square foot facility – which includes an acute psychiatric hospital, nursing home, and an assisted living center – in the early evening on Oct. 28. The hospital's 1.3 megawatt CHP plant provided full power until the electric grid stabilized.

CHP in Federal Policy

Despite CHP’s high level of energy efficiency, just 8% of U.S. electricity is generated from CHP. At this rate, CHP avoids nearly 250 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually – equivalent to removing more than 45 million cars from the road, according to a 2008 Oak Ridge National Laboratory report. Seeing this opportunity for the industrial sector, in August President Barack Obama issued an executive order instructing the Department of Energy and other federal agencies to double the amount of CHP in the United States by encouraging manufacturing facilities to invest in 40 gigawatts of new, cost-effective CHP by 2020.

More on Hurricane Sandy and Energy Efficiency