This week AT&T announced it had teamed up with the city to set up 25 free solar charging stations throughout the five boroughs. The project is a response to New Yorkers’ inability to charge phones and other devices during the widespread power outages following Hurricane Sandy.
So far, only a few of the stations have been rolled out with the rest expected to come online later in the summer. Some of the locations don’t seem very practical if the point is to help out in potential storm-affected areas (if you’re trapped on Governor’s Island during a hurricane, I think you’ve got bigger problems). Still, hopefully the initiative will be successful enough so that an adequate number of stations will be available the next time the power goes out.
This week, Mayor Bloomberg released a plan for preparing New York City for the next major hurricane. Given the extensive and lengthy power outages following Hurricane Sandy, you would think alternative energy sources would feature somewhat prominently in the plan. However, the section on Utilities focuses mostly on fortifying existing energy infrastructure.
The plan does put forth one goal for expanding the city’s distributed generation projects, such as cogeneration plants and PV installations. The city will also work with CUNY’s Smart DG Hub to study how solar could be used during blackouts, and will conduct research on micro-grids.
Last month, Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State Address spoke boldly about renewable energy and other environmental initiatives. One major proposal is the creation of a $1 billion Green Bank for investment in clean energy. Renewable energy projects in New York City tend to have higher price tags than elsewhere in the state, just as a cost of doing business, so any additional help such systems can get will be welcome. However, if the Green Bank will be partially funded by the Renewable Portfolio Standards and System Benefit Charge, it is likely the City will contribute more than it gets back.
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.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the power outage debacle that followed, many have touted the advantages of renewable energy sources in such situations,especially when compared to the failures of the traditional grid. Compelling arguments were made for solar and wind in particular. Yet, both energy types also have their drawbacks in a storm scenario.
Though the Jersey Atlantic Wind Project outside Atlantic City encountered hurricane-force gusts during the storm, the turbines survived with no damage, according to OnEarth. Of course if power lines were down in the area, there was nowhere for the wind project’s energy to go once it was back up and running, but it’s still a notable accomplishment. OnEarth also notes that Sandy’s winds had died down somewhat by the time it hit New Jersey, and turbine manufacturers will have to improve their standards if they want their systems to survive stronger storms.