Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on August 22, 2018
When Hurricane Sandy finished doing her dirty work, most New Yorkers saw only devastation – smashed buildings, flooded streets, darkened blocks. A team of designers and engineers at the energy- and water-management company Bright Power saw something else. They saw opportunity.
Responding to the city’s Resiliency Innovations for a Stronger Economy (RISE: NYC) competition, the group developed the Resilient Power Hub, which can power building systems during a blackout and cut energy costs year-round. The innovative system deploys a troika of technologies to generate electricity and heat: a combined heat and power (CHP, or cogen) generator; solar panels; and batteries to store electricity, which will enable buildings to shave electricity bills by avoiding Con Edison’s higher rates during times of peak demand. The invention was one of 11 winners out of more than 200 submissions in the RISE: NYC competition.
The city’s first Resilient Power Hub is now in place in a new 126-unit rental building in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx that’s being built by Community Access, a developer of affordable housing. Two more hubs are in the works – at a small commercial property in Brooklyn and at a 390-unit rental building now under construction in Queens. The costs, depending on the systems’ size and power, range from about $200,000 to a little over $1 million, with a return on investment in five to ten years.
“We’d been working on ideas to provide resiliency and cost savings,” says Jamin Bennett, director of onsite generation at Bright Power, who also served as project manager of the Bronx installation. “Our initial idea was to use solar panels and cogen, two well known technologies. But we needed to integrate them – which is how we came to the idea of battery storage. The system is applicable to any building that has access to sunlight and natural gas.”
Adds Betsy Harbison, Bright Power’s director of marketing, “Many co-ops and condos have installed cogeneration or solar, but combining those two with battery storage makes them that much more powerful.”
At the Bronx building, a micro-CHP cogeneration plant roughly the size of a refrigerator is on the roof, nestled among 162 solar panels. The batteries are in a room in the basement, in compliance with the city’s strict fire code. The Bright Power team designed the system in a “modular” fashion so that it can be tailored to a building’s size, budget, and energy needs. The natural gas-powered CHP cogenerator produces electricity and captures waste heat, which it then uses to produce domestic hot water.
“Once there’s a loss of power,” Bennett says, “the controls allow us to provide power wherever we desire to send it in the building – the elevators, water pumps, lights, anything that needs electricity.”
The developer of the Bronx building sees the Resilient Power Hub as a win-win. “Managing energy consumption efficiently is better for our world, and reducing energy costs means more can be spent on programs and facilities for our tenants," says Steve Coe, CEO of Community Access.
Bennett says “a bunch” of Bright Power’s other customers have expressed interest in the Resilient Power Hub. With sea levels rising and the weather becoming more erratic and violent, he believes the invention is an idea whose time has come.
“Looking at the landscape of New York City right now,” he says, “I think these technologies are going to become more and more relevant – and a standard part of most new buildings.”
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