NJ Transit officials announced yesterday that they’re planning to build a micro-grid that would let the transit system operate independently in case of an emergency like Hurricane Sandy. Former NJ Transit Deputy Executive Director and Founding Director of the Alan Voorhees Transportation Center Martin Robins told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he was surprised by the announcement and excited by it.
“It’s a pretty remarkable thing because you don’t associate the U.S. Department of Energy and New Jersey Transit. There has historically been very little contact between the two of them, two entities. But this is a very interesting collaboration that we learned about,” Robins said.
According to Robins, the two entities are in different layers of government. “There are barriers to people communicating and I don’t know that the Department of Energy has really made that much of an effort in the past to work with transit agencies,” he said.
Robins called the new grid “a wonderful case of technology transfer” with Sandia Laboratories, which he said will help NJ Transit deal with problems that have become more common.
“In part it’s building their own power plant. But it’s also a distribution system that will be devised. And right now we’re really at the early stages,” Robins said. “I understand that the grant has been given to New Jersey Transit to have Sandia study this subject and work with New Jersey Transit on a plan to implement this idea.”
Robins explained that the project is scalable, meaning it will be applied just to certain portions of the system first to deal with critical places that could lose power.
Because other systems could be involved, including Amtrak and PATH, Robins said he believes all the entities will be involved in the planning process. “They have to seek Sandy relief funds, which are released on a competitive basis. So they gotta put together a plan that they can implement, that shows real benefits and that it is the best use of the money that is available,” he explained.
If the system truly worked, Robins said there would be a backup power supply to keep the system going in all circumstances of power outages. “We’re talking about well down the line before every possibility has been eliminated,” he said.
While the details are still being worked out, Robins said he’s excited about the prospect of the micro-grid. “In the collegiate world you talk about technology transfer as something that is very desirable, but you don’t often experience it. Here’s a real case where the Department of Energy and Sandia have this technology and they’re thinking seriously now about applying it to the everyday needs of the people of New Jersey,” he said.