Trenton previews microgrid project amid statewide push for energy infrastructure upgrade

Microgrids are small-scale, localized power systems that provide back up power.

By Briana Vannozzi

If a microgrid can be built out here, critical state buildings like the Justice Complex, labor and health departments can stay operational during an emergency. That’s the idea behind creating what regulators are calling a town center microgrid.

“Going back to superstorm Sandy, New Jersey was faced with many challenges that the storm showed us. But one of them showed us the opportunity, an opportunity to develop distributed energy resources for the future, for resiliency,” said New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Richard Mroz.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities began studying the potential for microgrids immediately following Sandy. Today, Mroz toured Veolia in Trenton. It’s an existing thermal energy district network. Regulators want to expand it to incorporate electric service, making it the first in a series of enhancements to microgrids throughout the state.

“We’re kicking off a study to deal with a system that would provide generated, distributed generation or power reliable power to 20 or more buildings in the Trenton area that are already connected to the Veolia distribution service,” said Treasury Department Energy Initiatives Manager Bill Golubinski.

“These critical facilities that are already a part of it could then be an island unto itself in the event that there’s a failure of the electric grid. That whole system of buildings could operate with heat and cooled water,” Mroz said.

Microgrids are small-scale, localized power systems providing back up power. When the grid goes down, critical systems can stay up.

New Jersey regulators originally planned on approving somewhere between five to 12 feasibility studies, but instead approved 13 applications and more than doubled the amount of money available for the studies.

“We were pleased that there was such a great interest. We did receive 13 applications and those applications are for four facilities all throughout the state. They are all unique,” Mroz said.

This is just the planning stage. Officials still need to see what’s possible here. In Trenton, Veolia would act as the hub of the project. It provides 13,000 tons of chill water capacity, and more than 130,000 pounds per hour of steam/hot water to 35 customers in Trenton’s central business district.

What can we expect or anticipate from this study as far as the cost that’s going to be born out of this?

“What we’re looking to do is a multi-phase aspect. There’s the reliability issue, there’s also the inefficiencies increases of a system like this. What a traditional power plant does is send their waste heat up the chimney. We’re hoping in Veolia’s situation they will be able to capture that heat energy and because they are currently paying to get that heat energy, they won’t have to pay for it,” Golubinski said.

In other words, state officials hope the efficiency savings will help bear the brunt of the financing. Applicants now have up to 12 months to present their findings and microgrid needs to the state.