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How Clean Energy Kept the Lights on During Hurricane Sandy

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One year after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern United States, the region continues to rebuild. This has brought renewed emphasis on investing in clean energy technologies that will strengthen the electric grid and provide resilience in the event of future storms.

Hurricane Sandy left more than 8 million customers with prolonged power outages. Yet several key manufacturing facilities, hospitals, universities, and apartments kept the lights on and served as refuges for their communities. Co-op City in the Bronx, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut, Princeton University in New Jersey, and others maintained power using industrial energy efficiency systems, such as combined heat and power, or CHP.

These technologies, in use sporadically for more than 100 years in large power plants, industrial sites, and major cities, provide reliable electricity, mechanical power, or thermal energy by capturing heat that is wasted during electricity generation. They can lower energy costs by achieving up to 80 percent efficiency whereas most boilers or power plants operate at 45 percent.

A CHP system with the ability to operate independently of the grid (also known as “island-ability”) can maintain power even when the grid is down, ensuring that a facility stays productive. Generating power where it is used—also known as distributed power—protects businesses and institutions from unexpected electricity power outages caused by natural disasters and other disruptions.

Since Hurricane Sandy, state and local leaders in the region are prioritizing combined heat and power systems and other clean, distributed energy technologies as they rebuild their communities and invest in the future. Initiatives include: 

  • In Connecticut, the state government awarded $18 million for a microgrid pilot program to spur clean energy projects at important community locations such as universities, hospitals, and police and fire stations. Governor Daniel P. Malloy is recommending that this program expand by $30 million over the next two years.
  • New York state’s Combined Heat and Power Performance Program is offering $40 million in incentives for CHP projects that maximize efficiency and can operate independently of the grid. This program builds on the state’s investment of more than $100 million in recent years.
  • New Jersey’s goal of producing 1,500 megawatts of power through CHP by 2020 is being supported by the Large Scale Combined Heat and Power and Fuel Cell Program. It allocates $100 million for nursing homes, hospitals, and wastewater treatment plants to develop projects that will allow them to achieve island-ability.

These states are promoting combined heat and power deployment as a way to reduce energy costs and strengthen resilience in the event of future storms. Nationally, a significant increase in industrial energy efficiency could create as many as 1 million highly skilled jobs, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. And improving the efficiency of power generation could result in more than $200 billion in private investment over 10 years, according to a study by Industrial Energy Consumers of America, which represents many of the country’s largest manufacturers.


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