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NJ Transit Disaster-Proofs with Largest Ever Civilian Microgrid
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August 29, 2013

NJ Transit Disaster-Proofs with Largest Ever Civilian Microgrid

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

New Jersey is getting “back on track” after last year’s superstorm with the largest civilian microgrid ever commissioned in the United States. In a partnership with the Obama Administration that will make the Garden State’s infrastructure—and its transportation system, in particular—more resilient and reliable during future disasters, Governor Chris Christie announced this week plans to back up the crucial Northeast Corridor route with at least 50 megawatts (MW) of dedicated power capacity.

During Hurricane Sandy, NJ Transit—the nation’s third-largest transportation system, serving nearly 900,000 passengers each day— sustained $400 million in damage; including $100 million in train cars, locomotives and equipment. Stations were flooded, debris covered what remained of the tracks, and power outages resulted in the loss of traffic control devices critical to safe operation. What’s more, the system’s reputation was damaged, because it recovered significantly more slowly than did the neighboring New York City MTA. 

Damage to NJ Transit tracks after Hurricane Sandy (photo courtesy of NJ Transit).

Now, based on a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of Energy, NJ Transit and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, first, the needs of the transit system will be assessed and then Sandia National Laboratories will step in to help design a microgrid—similar to those that Sandia already has deployed more than 20 times for the U.S. military. A $1 million federal grant will fund the NJ TRANSITGRID program.

To date, the NJ Transit system has been totally reliant on external grids to keep its passengers on the move. The NJ TRANSITGRID is expected to integrate distributed energy sources, including PV solar systems—one of New Jersey’s key strengths——as well as small wind turbines, storage and backup generators; and will incorporate design approaches for both islanded and grid-tied microgrids.

NJ TRANSIT could make use of existing railroad rights-of-way to transmit this power between the generation sites, facilities and rail lines in Jersey City, Kearny, Secaucus, Hoboken, Harrison and Newark. Railroad facilities and lines in these communities represent the most crucial – and the most vulnerable— corridor within the agency’s rail system. It is anticipated that such a power network could potentially increase the resiliency and reliability of NJ TRANSIT’s electrical systems.

At the press conference in Secaucus, Christie commented, “This first-of-its-kind electrical microgrid will supply highly-reliable power during storms, and help keep our public transportation systems running during natural times of disaster, which is critical not only to our economy, but also emergency and evacuation-related activities. The Obama Administration has been an integral partner with this innovative project, and we will work closely with them in the months ahead to make NJ TRANSITGRID a reality.”

Also on hand to make the announcement, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated, “The partnership announced today marks an important step in this direction by working to improve the electric grid system in New Jersey and the broader region, so that it is more resilient and better equipped to maintain power during natural disasters.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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