Courtesy of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey’s Transit System is Getting an Energy Upgrade

By: Steve Ferraina, Senior Projects Editor 

Hurricane Sandy made a dramatic appearance in New Jersey on October 29, 2012.[1] Hurricane Sandy is the latest natural disaster to shed light on NJ Transit’s problems when power outages occur. These power outages not only affect New Jersey’s evacuation routes, but also the evacuation route for Manhattan in New York City.[2] Given the intense criticism about NJ Transit after Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vowed to upgrade the transit system to better respond after large natural disasters.

New Jersey, including NJ Transit and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the United States Department of Energy (“DOE”), and Sandia National Laboratories[3] are partnering to create the first non-military microgrid,[4] known as NJ Transitgrid, with the goal of enhancing the efficiency and reliability of the electric system used for NJ Transit’s operations.[5] This is a “first-of-its-kind electrical microgrid [that] will supply highly-reliable power during storms, and help keep [New Jersey’s] public transportation systems running during natural times of disaster, which is critical to not only [New Jersey’s] economy, but also emergency and evacuation-related activities.”[6] NJ Transit serves almost 900,000 individuals per day and is currently the country’s third-largest transit system.[7] By partnering with the federal government, New Jersey is proving yet again how well a federal-state regulatory and financial partnership can function to solve national problems.

The DOE issued the Grid Resiliency Report, which states that severe weather is leading all other causes of power outages in the United States with 679 power outages occurring between 2003 and 2013.[8] The Grid Resiliency Report also states that Hurricane Sandy alone cost the United States’ economy between $27 billion and $52 billion.[9] In New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy caused roughly 68% of residents to suffer vast power outages that lasted for weeks and NJ Transit to experience about $400 million in damages.[10]

The NJ Transitgrid agreement’s ultimate goal is to design a microgrid system that extends from Newark to Hoboken by focusing on major stations along the way.[11] In doing so, public officials will find it easier to resolve power outages and increase public safety during natural disasters.[12] NJ Transitgrid will greatly alleviate pressure on NJ Transit, which currently relies on outside grids to operate.[13] NJ Transitgrid would utilize existing railroad rights-of-way when powering the system through the rail lines running between Jersey City, Kearny, Secaucus, Hoboken, Harrison, and Newark.[14]

The microgrid technology uses a quantitative risk assessment tool, known as Energy Surety Design Methodology (“ESDM”), which “allows communities to evaluate their regional energy needs, identify advanced solutions to improve the reliability and resiliency of their electric grids, and understand the most cost-effective strategies for system upgrades.”[15] ESDM includes a variety of smart grid technologies, such as generators, wind power, and photovoltaics, to increase power reliability, integration, and cost-effectiveness,[16] and by connecting the microgrid technology to existing railroad rights-of-way, it in effect “islands” the power system from the rest of the grid in the event a natural disaster causes the existing grid to collapse.[17] By separating the microgrid from the regional grid, it acts as a fail-safe that continues to power NJ Transit even though the rest of the region’s power is out.

While the system is currently in planning phases, if it operates as designed by Sandia National Laboratories, it has the opportunity to redefine energy grids in America and lessen the cost of major natural disasters.[18] And by partnering with the federal government, states can not only utilize the knowledge of the Department of Energy regarding new energy technologies, but can hopefully avoid any regulatory and financial challenges when implementing such systems. It became clear after Hurricane Sandy that New Jersey had to rethink its energy design for NJ Transit, and NJ Transitgrid may be just what the state, and country, needs.


[1] See Miriam Berg, CHP Kept Schools, Hospitals Running Amid Hurricane Sandy, Alliance To Save Energy (Dec. 11, 2012), http://ase.org/efficiencynews/chp-kept-schools-hospitals-running-amid-hurricane-sandy.
[2] See Energy Department Partners with State of New Jersey to Study Ways to Improve the Reliability of New Jersey’s Transit System in Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Department of Energy (Aug. 26, 2013), http://energy.gov/articles/energy-department-partners-state-new-jersey-study-ways-improve-reliability-new-jersey-s.
[3] Sandia National Laboratories currently designs and operates microgrid systems in over twenty military bases around the country. See Energy Department Partners with State of New Jersey, supra note 2.
[4] See Gabriella Schwarz, New Jersey Energy Grid gets an Obama Administration Lift, CNN (Aug. 26, 2013), http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/08/26/new-jersey-energy-grid-gets-an-obama-administration-lift/.
[5] See Energy Department Partners with State of New Jersey, supra note 2.
[6] See id.
[7] See Making NJ TRANSIT Stronger and More Resilient, NJ Transit (Aug. 26, 2013), http://www.njtransit.com/tm/tm_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=PressReleaseTo&PRESS_RELEASE_ID=2884.
[8] See Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages, Department of Energy (last visited Aug. 31, 2013), http://energy.gov/downloads/economic-benefits-increasing-electric-grid-resilience-weather-outages.
[9] See id.
[10] See Schwarz, supra note 4; Silvio Marcacci, COE and New Jersey Developing First US Transit System Microgrid, Clean Technica (last visited Aug. 31, 2013), http://cleantechnica.com/2013/08/28/doe-and-new-jersey-developing-first-us-transit-system-microgrid/.
[11] See Energy Department Partners with State of New Jersey, supra note 2.
[12] See id.
[13] See Making NJ TRANSIT Stronger and More Resilient, supra note 7.
[14] See id.
[15] See Energy Department Partners with State of New Jersey, supra note 2.
[16] See id.
[17] See Marcacci, supra note 10.
[18] See Magdalena Klemun, From Military Base to Garden State: NJ Transit Plans Advanced Microgrid, Green Tech Media (Aug. 27, 2013), http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/from-military-base-to-garden-state-nj-transit-plans-advanced-microgrid.

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