A New Jersey city that suffered greatly during the Sandy Superstorm that hit North America’s east coast four years ago is taking steps to ensure resiliency of its grid in the event of a repeat.

80 per cent of the low-lying Hoboken city lost power during the storm and Mayor Dawn Zimmer told Citylab website this week that improving the resiliency of the city is a priority.
Hoboken sign
A back-up power supply is being developed to counter future such scenarios. Sandy caused flooding to knock out three power substations and left residents without electricity for more than two weeks.

The city identified microgrid technology as the way forward. A feasibility study put the price tag for a Hoboken microgrid big enough to power 50 buildings at $50 million but it was decided that not having such a system would in the long run cause greater financial woe.

The Obama Administration formed a Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy task force in 2012 to explore resiliency strategies, which led to Hoboken receiving a grant from the Department of Energy to study the microgrid idea. Sandia National Laboratories performed analysis that identified 55 essential buildings that could be plugged into the network.

Then Hoboken hired Greener By Design, a firm that consults on renewable energy, to wrangle the players and identify the many legal issues involved in building a community-based microgrid. Part of their charge was also to design a “Resilient Cities Toolkit” to assist local officials and help other cities interested in pursuing the same idea. “

Finally Hoboken prioritises the use of renewables for the microgrid instead of the stape fossil-fuel generators more commonly used in such systems. Currently, planners hope to employ a mix of solar power and cogeneration plants that produce both heat and electricity. They’re also positioning the Hoboken network as an eco-friendlier alternative to the gas-fired “peaker plants” that utilities rely on to cover periods of high electrical demand, such as heat waves. When power demand rises, the microgrid could feed into the main grid, easing the stress on the system.

“We don’t want to build an asset that’s only used in case of emergency,” Caleb Stratton, Hoboken’s principal planner told Citylab.

This past week US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that increased investment is needed in energy emergency response.

Moniz highlighted DOE’s expanded emergency response responsibilities, and the need for comprehensive and coordinated response capabilities in the face of increasingly integrated energy systems and evolving threats.

“Looking ahead, Congress will be a key partner in ensuring that we strengthen our prevention and response capabilities,” Moniz said. “Public consciousness has been raised about the vulnerability of our electric grid and the need for the U.S. to substantially raise its game in addressing those vulnerabilities.”