Home » OPINION » Columns » SUMESH ARORA — Re-energizing after Hurricane Katrina

SUMESH ARORA — Re-energizing after Hurricane Katrina



A s we mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and reflect on the past decade we hear many stories of courage, strength and of the unity we showed as a state.  One of the numbers which stood out in my mind was the number of people who lost electricity to their homes, offices or businesses: nearly four million, by some estimates, in the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.  All of Mississippi Power’s customers and about 75 percent of Entergy Mississippi’s customers, totaling nearly half a million, lost power in one day!

The response to restore the power was massive and swift, with more than 10,000 utility workers from all over the country and Canada joining hands with our local utilities to rebuild and repair the power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure.  According to Mississippi Power’s website, power was restored in just 12 days to every customer who was capable of receiving power, but sadly some 25,000 residential and business customers had lost everything.  Critical needs facilities such as hospitals and command centers were first in line to get their power restored.

The ramifications of losing electricity were not limited to the Gulf Coast states only, but were leading up to an impending national emergency.  Collins, Miss. is a major hub for pipelines which transport gasoline from the Gulf to the Eastern seaboard.  Without electricity, there was no way to pump the gas through these pipelines and millions of residents around the country feared they would run out of fuel.  It took the collective and creative efforts of Entergy Mississippi to supply power to customers in that area normally served by Southern Pine Electric Power Association and Mississippi Power.  As recounted recently by Haley Fisackerly, President and CEO of Entergy Mississippi, averting this national crisis involved building a road through marshes and bringing in a specialized helicopter to airlift a transmission tower onsite to re-operate seven miles of badly damaged power lines.

Severe weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and super-storm Sandy remind us of our dependency on energy supplies – electricity and fuel – to maintain our normal standard of living.  They also shed a light on the complexity and the vulnerability of the nation’s energy infrastructure.  In the midst of such heavy destruction and life-threatening disruptions there were pockets of relief.  A nationally recognized example of resiliency in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center (MBMC) located in Jackson, MS.

MBMC is one of the largest hospitals in the state with 624 beds and its onsite combined heat and power system provided power and thermal energy to the hospital for 52 hours immediately following the storm.  Mississippi Baptist was the only hospital in the Jackson metro area to remain nearly 100% operational and was able to receive patients from other medical facilities, as well as serve as an operations center for emergency responders.  After the power grid stabilized, Mississippi Baptist reconnected to the grid and resumed normal hospital operation.  Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey also relied on their central heat and power systems to supply uninterrupted power to their campuses after Katrina and Sandy respectively.

You may be wondering what a central heat and power system is? It is important to note that it is not a backup generator.  The beauty of such a system lies in the fact that it is able to produce both electricity and steam from almost half the amount of fuel that it would take to run a separate generator and boiler.  We all know that engines run very hot, but CHP system is able to capture that wasted heat and uses it to make steam or hot water.  A typical generator – boiler system is only 30 to 40 percent efficient, but CHP systems can achieve efficiencies as high as 80 percent.  CHP systems are typically located on-site where the power and heat is consumed and are often fired with natural gas which means their gas supply infrastructure is underground and less vulnerable to weather events.  They also run a lot cleaner with lower emissions than diesel generators and with fewer transmission losses.

The 4.6 megawatt (central heat and power system was installed in 1991 by Mississippi Baptist with the intent of meeting a large portion of its energy needs. The system was designed to provide 80 percent of its electrical needs, 95 percent of its steam demand, and 60 percent of its cooling.  Steam supplied by the system directly produces domestic water heating and building heat, and is also used in absorption chillers to produce chilled water which reduces peak demand on the electric grid during the summer by approximately 1.2 mw  The total project cost was $4.2 million which has yielded an average annual energy cost savings of more than $700,000 providing a 6.3 year simple payback.

CHP systems are not new and in 1882, Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station in New York was the first plant that made and distributed both electricity and thermal energy, but adoption of this technology has been very slow and did not start picking up till the 1980s.  Today there is 82 gigawatts of installed CHP generation capacity which represents 12 percent of the nation’s energy capacity.

In a project led by the Mississippi Development Authority – Energy and Natural Resources Division and InnovateMEP Mississippi – Manufacturing Extension Partnership under our Economy-Energy-Environment (E3) Initiative we found that Mississippi has 14 CHP installations totaling just over 500 MW of electrical generation capacity.  Four of these systems are located at pulp and paper mills which use waste biomass as fuel and have a combined capacity of nearly 300MW.  To put it in perspective, this is enough capacity to power nearly 300,000 average sized homes.

CHP systems are well suited for the chemical industry, heat intensive manufacturing processes, hospitals, universities and even multi-family housing.  Please contact me if your company is interested in a CHP system, and we can hook you up with the US. Department of Energy’s Southeast CHP Technical Assistance Partnership for a totally free screening to determine if CHP is indeed a good fit.

There also a lot of local resources including engineering firms, consultants, equipment vendors and faculty at Mississippi State University who have a lot of experience with CHP systems.  As part of the project we have brought together a CHP Stakeholder Network which includes representatives from several utilities and regulators from the Mississippi Public Service Commission and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.  Keep an eye out for the comprehensive report which will be released later this month and includes challenges to adopting CHP in Mississippi along with some recommendations.

Having an energy supply period, is a critical requirement to bounce back from a natural disaster of any magnitude.  Affordability of energy is defined very differently in such scenarios and is priceless if measured in terms of human lives saved.  Innovative technologies such as CHP have a distinct and indispensable place in our energy mix and private and public sector planners and policy makers should keep such examples in mind when considering options to building more resilient cities of the future.

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is Vice President at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.


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