Recently, I wrote about the potential benefits of wind and solar during a major blackout like that which followed Hurricane Sandy. Yet there was one alternative energy source already in use in certain sections of New York City that kept buildings and neighborhoods up and running: cogeneration. Though not as sexy as PV or wind – and ultimately still reliant on fossil fuels – cogeneration is another smart option to consider in an overall plan to make energy more reliable.
NYU’s buildings around Washington Square Park kept lights and heat thanks to its 13.4-megawatt cogeneration plant. The system burns natural gas to create electricity, then channels the excess heat to make steam that is used to make more power; it is 90 percent efficient. Unlike most of the city’s solar panels, NYU’s cogeneration plant was able to disconnect from the city grid when the grid shut down and continue running throughout the power outage.
Similarly, Co-op City in the Bronx relied on its 40-megawatt cogeneration plant to provide power to 60,000 residents in Sandy’s aftermath. Though the system was expensive to install, it ultimately saves the community money on energy bills and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions.