On the picturesque Brooklyn, NY, waterfront, an increasingly common alternative to traditional powering — cogeneration — is working, and working well. In fact, the only time it stopped was when the equipment was partially submerged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Manhattan Beer Distributors – formerly Phoenix Beverages – has tremendous power needs. Keeping beer cool is not easy. The massive facility has been powered for a half-decade by Tecogen’s InVerde cogeneration (also known as combined heat and power, or CHP) units, according to President and COO Robert Panora.
In traditional electric generation, heat is considered a byproduct and is expelled into the air. The value-proposition of CHP is that the heat is captured and re-purposed. Thus, it is considered to be a far more efficient approach.
This two-for-one approach seems to be working out for MBD.
In 2010, the distributorship wanted to consolidate from several locations in the New York City metropolitan area to a single facility. It chose a massive building on the Red Hook piers.
The location was ideal, but there was a problem: The electrical infrastructure had degraded to the point that it was unsuitable for the company’s needs. MBD would have had to pay ConEd — the city’s utility — millions of dollars to make the system viable. “The problem was electric feeder was small and was very much in bad repair because of salt and so forth,” Panora said. “I think [the cabling] actually had to travel for some distance under water.”
An alternative was sought. Panora said that the project was brought to Tecogen and a system designed that features six natural gas-fed 100 KW InVerde units. Many microgrids work in concert with the main grid to act as standbys in case of failure and take the edge off periods of high demand. MBD’s microgrid, however, is self-contained and unconnected to ConEd’s grid.
The InVerde units are indirectly self-regulating. They do not directly communicate with each other. However, the modules use an algorithm developed at the University of Wisconsin that ensures that a constant amount of electricity is being provided in a multi-unit system. The algorithm is designed to “expect” certain conditions to exist. When there is a discontinuity, the automatically adjust their production to fill the gap. In the case of MBD, the InVerde CHP units are set to expect system-wide norm of 480 volts at a 60 hertz frequency.
If a unit goes down – either for planned service or due to a mechanical problem – that level will not be reached. The system automatically makes up the shortfall. “There is no master slave configuration in which if you lose the master you are out of commission,” he said.
In both the winter and summer, about 30 percent of the output of the InVerde units provide electricity to the building. The other 60 percent is used to generate hot water for low grade heating in the winter and for absorption-based air conditioning in the summer.
Panora says that MBD says that it is saving about $1 million annually due to the high electric rates they would be forced to pay if they didn’t have the alternative source. Panora pointed out that ConEd is having a difficult time providing enough electricity – in particular in the Brooklyn/Queens area — to its subscribers and is actively promoting CHP projects. The CHP system is estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 3,100 tons annually, according to Tecogen.
The area was hit hard during Superstorm Sandy. Panora said that MBD’s power remained on until the InVerde units were themselves inundated with water. A repairman was sent and power restored within 24 hours. That is, needless to say, far faster than it was restored to the rest of the neighborhood.
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