A Microgrid to Keep New York City’s Fresh Food Supply Safe

Aug. 4, 2016
A $137 million microgrid would ensure power for a food processing center responsible for 60% of NYC’s fresh fish, meat and produce.

When the power fails, refrigerators go out too, jeopardizing our fresh food supply. That’s part of the reason a $137 million microgrid has been proposed in the Hunts Point area of New York City.

The South Bronx neighborhood is home to a wholesale food cooperative located at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center (FDC), which includes the Produce Market Co-op, Meat Market Co-op, and the New Fulton Fish Market. Six thousand people work at the site, owned by the City of New York.

The 329-acre center is crucial because it processes and stores up to 60 percent of greater NYC’s produce, meat, and fish and feeds about 22 million people daily. More than $30 million of food would be lost if refrigerators failed for more than a few days.

To protect this food supply, the City of New York and partners have proposed a grid-connected microgrid. The project is one of 83 that won funds for a feasibility study from NY Prize, a state-sponsored competition to incentivize microgrids.

Located on a peninsula between the Bronx and East rivers, Hunts Point was fortunate to miss extensive damage from the 2012 Superstorm Sandy. But that’s only because the gale-force winds hit during low tide. At high tide, storm flooding could overwhelm much of the distribution center, located within a 100-year flood plan and not equipped with back-up generators.

During power outages the markets usually load as much perishable food into trucks as possible, park them in the warehouse, and close the doors until power comes back. However, if truck temperatures rise to a point where they exceed federal safety regulations — which usually happens within a few hours – the food is at risk.

The commercial microgrid would maintain power for the center during a regional blackout by islanding from the central grid and generating electricity onsite with its own distributed energy resources. These include three 4.6-MW natural gas combined heat and power (CHP) turbines, steam absorption chillers for cooling, 5.9 MW of rooftop solar, a flywheel, and a smart grid of intelligent meters and switchgear.

Fueled by natural gas, the CHP turbines could operate indefinitely during outages. They would secure natural gas from local utility Consolidated Edison or could operate on gas delivered by truck. The project also proposes adding biogas from a planned anaerobic digester supplied by food waste from the markets and from the nearby wastewater treatment plant.

Adding to the facility’s resiliency, emergency generators will be installed at the Meat Market Cooperative with $3.45 million contributed by the New York City Council. The largest meat distribution center of its kind in the world, the cooperative supplies 50 percent of the meat consumed in the New York region — 2.5 billion pounds per year — housed  in one million square-feet of refrigerated space. Its sales total more than $3.2 billion annually.

More than $30 million of food would be lost if refrigerators failed for more than a few days at the center.

More than just a storm back-up system, the microgrid would provide heat, steam, cooling and electricity to the markets even when the utility grid is operating normally — in a way designed to minimize energy costs.

The project planners expect the microgrid to buy electricity from the local utility only under special circumstances. This might be when the businesses’ thermal needs are low and the CHP plant isn’t run to full capacity or on cloudy winter afternoons that are not prime for solar.  In addition, the microgrid’s highly efficient CHP plant would create thermal energy for the substantial amount of refrigeration on the site.

A GE Grid IQ Microgrid Control System would manage the microgrid’s distributed energy resources, employing configurations that maximize use of renewable energy and achieve fuel savings. The goal is to keep energy prices low and give the food businesses a competitive edge.

The advanced controller also will manage the microgrid’s relationship to the central grid. When the grid is under strain and energy prices are high, the microgrid can sell any excess electricity into the grid. The microgrid will be able to sell ancillary services to the central grid, as well. These might include demand response and frequency and voltage control. Sale of  these electricity services offers a revenue stream for the microgrid.

The project partners are NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), NYC Department of Environmental Protection, Consolidated Edison of New York, the Produce Market Co-op, Meat Market Co-op, the New Fulton Fish Market, and The Point CDC.

The source of this information is the NY Prize Feasibility Studies and NY Prize Stage 1 Winner, offered by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA).

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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