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Resilient CHP Power Mother Nature Can’t Jolt Facilities Like She Used To

When lightning knocked out power in the new wing of a California hospital, staff held small battery-powered spotlights while the surgeon quickly closed down the emergency operation.  Fire trucks soon illuminated the surgery room with portable lights through the windows so the surgeon could complete the operation.1 

Fortunately, the patient was fine.  Unfortunately, the ‘self-sufficient’ backup power system in the new wing failed to restore electricity within the 1-minute design specification.

From 2003-2012, lightening and other severe weather like the storm that affected the hospital caused 80% of all power outages.2 Researchers estimate over $150 billion per year is lost by U.S. industries due to electric network (reliability) problems. 3

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Today, however, even if the electricity grid is impaired, a specially configured Combined Heating and Power (CHP) system can continue to operate, ensuring an uninterrupted supply of power and heating or cooling to the host facility.

Because a CHP system can be used daily for onsite power, it is more reliable than a generator used solely for backup power, like the generator at the California hospital that sat idle a majority of the time.

A 2013 report from ICF International for Oak Ridge National Laboratory confirms this. “Overall, a CHP system that runs every day and saves money continuously is more reliable in an emergency than a backup generator system that only runs during emergencies.” 5

Superstorm Sandy

Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms ever recorded, thrashed the East Coast in October 2012.  Power outages lasted for days across several states.  At the height of the blackout, 2.6 million facilities, businesses and homes were without power in New Jersey alone. In New York, the number was 2.1 million and in Connecticut 630,000 6. The power failures and subsequent business standstill caused an estimated $20 billion in losses.7 

The Oak Ridge report 5 noted, “During Superstorm Sandy there were multiple cases of emergency generators that did not function properly, such as the back-up generator at NYU Langone Medical Center. Fuel pumps for backup generators failed at Bellevue Hospital after the basement flooded, forcing the hospitals to evacuate patients to other medical centers with CHP systems or backup generators that remained operational during the storm.”

After the storm, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) contacted 24 sites it funded across the state that had installed a CHP system, including several with Capstone microturbines. All 24 sites performed as expected; continuing to operate during the grid outage.5

Superstorm Sandy 2012
Superstorm Sandy 2012
Superstorm Sandy’s destruction. October 2012.
Superstorm Sandy’s destruction. October 2012.
Family at Davidow Hall Red Cross Shelter during Hurricane Sandy.
Family at Davidow Hall Red Cross Shelter during Hurricane Sandy.
The Capstone Microturbine CHP installation at Salem Community College ran throughout Superstorm Sandy to provide the electricity, heating and cooling.
The Capstone Microturbine CHP installation at Salem Community College ran throughout Superstorm Sandy to provide the electricity, heating and cooling.

Microturbines in Superstorm Sandy

During Superstorm Sandy, facilities with Capstone CHP microturbines operated without interruption, including:

  • Christian Health Care Center, New Jersey. Capstone microturbines helped meet all power, heating and hot water needs of residents while the large assisted-living facility was completely off the grid for 14 days.  Not one resident was transferred to another facility during the storm.  The Center’s four Capstone C65 (65kW) microturbines simultaneously provide 260kW of electricity, 100 tons of cooling, and/or 1.2 million Btus of hot water for domestic use.  
  • Red Cross Disaster Relief Shelter at Salem Community College, New Jersey. During Sandy, three Capstone microturbines were the only power source for the 1,300-student college and onsite Red Cross shelter.  The reliable microturbines operated continuously for nearly 96 hours.5   Year round, the Capstone C65 microturbines provide 195kW of electricity to the community college’s five buildings that serve 1,300 students across 11 acres. The microturbine-powered CHP system produces 100% of the site’s hot and chilled water, and 80% of the site’s electricity.

How CHP works

1. CHP can efficiently power a single large building, campus or group of facilities.

2. An electrical generator is the key system component.

3. When the generator, such as a Capstone Microturbine, produces electricity, it also produces heat.

4. A CHP system captures the waste heat to create steam or hot water for space heating, cooling, or other processes.

5. Capstone Combined Cooling & Heating (CCHP) systems can reach fuel efficiencies of up to 90%, compared to about 45% for conventional heat and power systems that operate separately.

Microturbines and CHP

Capstone microturbines average 99% availability.  In CHP applications, they operate with or without connection to the electric grid.  Buildings with Capstone microturbines achieve greater energy independence, reliability and energy efficiency than CHP systems with conventional generators. 

In fact, Capstone CHP systems fueled with clean-burning natural gas attain up to 90% efficiency for combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP) systems.  

New Jersey Natural Gas recognizes the enhanced power and reliability of microturbines in CHP applications. On its website the utility notes, “Market conditions (for microturbines) favor businesses that benefit from the recapture of excess heat and those that place a premium on power quality and reliability. 9

“Free heat and hot water from the excess heat make microturbines a competitive means of electric generation.  They provide a safeguard against downtime costs for business that rely on sensitive electronics or cannot endure even momentary outages.”

Capstone Microturbines on St. Thomas surrounded by Hurricane Irma debris.
Capstone Microturbines on St. Thomas surrounded by Hurricane Irma debris.

Microturbines vs. Traditional Diesel Backup Generators

Because microturbines require less maintenance than traditional diesel generators, users benefit from significant cost savings, less downtime and lower emissions. 

Downtime is never welcome, whether due to Mother Nature, unplanned repairs or planned maintenance. Because microturbines have only one moving part and no synthetic lubricants or coolants (they use friction-free air as a lubricant), maintenance is significantly less. The results are lower costs and an average 99% power availability.

Info Table

1 Electrical Construction & Maintenance Magazine, “The Case of a Hospital’s Emergency Power Failure,” July 1, 1998, http://ecmweb.com/content/case-hospitals-emergency-power-failure

 2 Climate Central, “Blackout: Extreme Weather, Climate Change and Power Outages, Climate Central,” 2014. http://assets.climatecentral.org/pdfs/PowerOutages.pdf

 3, 4 Galvin Electricity Initiative, “Electricity Reliability: Problems, Progress and Policy Solutions, 2011. http://www.galvinpower.org/sites/default/files/Electricity_Reliability_031611.pdf

 5 Oak Ridge National Laboratories, “Combined Heat and Power: Enabling Resilient Energy Infrastructure for Critical Facilities,” 2013, http://www1.eere.energy. gov/manufacturing/distributedenergy/chp_basics.html

 6 Powering Through the Storms,” Pace Energy and Climate Center, http://energy.pace.edu/sites/default/files/publications/EBrief_Storms_July_v2.pdf

 7 http://money.cnn.com/2012/10/29/news/economy/hurricane-sandy-business/index.html

 9 New Jersey Natural Gas, https://www.njng.com/save-energy-money/distrGen/microturbines.asp

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