Keeping the Lights On

Hoboken resiliency microgrid
Gita Subramony, ERS, for Zondits

CityLab takes a look at Hoboken New Jersey’s plans to develop its own back-up power supply. In 2012, Hoboken was one of the many communities devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from New York City, is a low-lying urban community, and it was almost completely underwater after the storm. Years later, the city is considering strategies to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events. One area of particular focus is how to keep emergency power on so that residents can evacuate successfully or shelter in place if it is safe to do so. Hoboken is looking to plan a microgrid to provide power in the case of a grid outage, and the city was able to leverage grants from the US Department of Energy for a feasibility study. Challenges remain, though: implementation costs are high, and getting multiple stakeholders to agree to such a project is no easy feat. If Hoboken designs and implements a successful microgrid it could serve as a model for other nearby communities (some of which are already participating in the NY Prize microgrid program).


To Storm-Proof Hoboken, a Microgrid

CityLab, August 24, 2016

With 80 percent of her city underwater and the power out, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer climbed the stairs to a senior apartment facility and found a woman, alone and in tears. She’d been trapped in her home, unable to leave the building without elevator service, and she needed her medication.

“They left us in the dark,” she said.

Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 gave Zimmer a new priority for her administration—preparing this New Jersey city of 50,000 across the Hudson River from Manhattan for the next disaster. Low-lying Hoboken all but submerged in Sandy’s wake: Flooding knocked out three power substations and left residents without electricity for more than two weeks. With no means of charging cellphones, many of those who sheltered in place were essentially stranded and isolated. “I remember driving through the dark city streets, wondering, Who has an emergency right now? They can’t reach us,” Zimmer recalls.

What Hoboken needed, she decided, was backup—a way to keep the lights on and elevators working for a few essential facilities, not just police stations and hospitals but grocery stores, pharmacies, and senior housing complexes. A microgrid, in other words: a self-sustaining power generation and distribution network that could kick in when the big grid goes down, keeping strategic parts of the city running after a blackout or weather-related catastrophe.

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Image credit: Nick Amoscato

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