Microgrid Makes Unstable Power Supply in Norwich A Thing of the Past

US$9 million microgrid will keep the lights on in a Connecticut town during unplanned outages.
Published: Wed 01 Oct 2014

Major power outages as a result of severe weather conditions like tropical storms, hurricanes, snowstorms and blizzards are a thing of the past for Norwich, US.

Microgrid offers reliable backup power

The region has recently installed a US$9 million, four-unit diesel generation micro grid power plant which will serve Backus and surrounding areas during major storms and power outages. The four units are among 20 installed by the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative in its five member towns and other partner locations as both cost-cutting energy producers and storm power generators for key areas.

The four Backus units are located on land off New London Turnpike owned by Backus across the Yantic River from the main William Backus Hospital campus.

The Backus plant can also be controlled remotely by Norwich Public Utilities (NPU) and CMEEC, Connnecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, which built the powerful back-up system behind hospital. Each unit, which runs on diesel fuel, generates 2.5MW. There are 4,200 gallon tanks under the giant generators which keep the 213 bed hospital up and running at all times. On top of each unit is a selective catalytic reducer to cut diesel emissions which is meant to help the environment, said NPU General Manager John Bilda.

Leading to the hospital is a reinforced hardened power line and everything on the microgrid site is underground so if there is a storm or bad weather there shouldn’t be another power outage there, explains Chris Rall an engineer with CMEEC. He says that there is sufficient power for the Backus hospital and surrounding critical facilities such as schools, emergency shelters, stores and gas stations during an unplanned outage.

CMEEC Chief Executive Officer Drew Rankin said the cooperative applied for state grant money to fund the microgrid — a recommended technology of the state’s Two Storm Panel formed after Tropical Storm Irene and a freak Halloween snowstorm hit the state in 2011 — but they were refused the grant. CMEEC and partner utilities decided to go forward with the project on their own regardless.

Growing microgrid numbers help cut costs

Norwich has six of the 20 CMEEC units in operation, the four at Backus and two in the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park. In addition, NPU owns a unit at the sewage treatment plant that would power the treatment plant and sections of downtown during major storms.

All of the units run for a period of time each month during peak usage and to reduce CMEEC’s cost of purchasing expensive power from outside sources.

In addition to the Norwich units, Groton has six microgrid units, with four more planned for the Naval Submarine Base, and there are two in Bozrah, one in Jewett City, one on Fishers Island and four on property owned by the Mohegan tribe, Rankin said.

Mayor Deberey Hinchey said Norwich has a “unique experience” in the state during major storms. In most cases, residents and businesses don’t lose power at all, or for short periods, as crews work to restore power.

US – the current microgrid market leader

With the launch of dozens of successful pilot programs globally, the adoption rate of microgrids is expected to accelerate over the next several years. Microgrids offer greater resilience, a high potential for integrating distributed renewable generation resources, and the ability to isolate themselves, when necessary, from the wider power grid—a capability known as islanding. This is especially effective during outages caused by severe weather conditions.

According to a recent report from Navigant Research, North America is currently the leading microgrid market and will remain the leader through 2020. Total microgrid capacity in North America will reach 5.9GW in 2020, representing 64% of worldwide capacity.

Further reading

Navigant Research – North America Will Lead the Worldwide Microgrid Market With Nearly 6 Gigawatts of Total Capacity by 2020.