University of Texas at Austin Center for Electromechanics: Ms. Shannon Strank (Assistant Director), Mr. Mike Lewis (Program Manager)
During manmade or natural disasters, electric power service is often interrupted as homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals may sit in the dark for several days. Restoring power distribution and generation systems is often a time consuming process, and the availability of alternate power sources, such as diesel generators, is scarce when compared to community needs immediately following a disaster. Even thoughtful efforts to plan and mitigate power interruptions are thwarted when back-up power generators are flooded during the disaster, run out of fuel, or are improperly maintained prior to the disaster. Ultimately, during a disaster, there is never enough electrical power to go around.
Transit agencies have historically played a vital role during emergency response by providing mobility and evacuation before, during, and after disasters. Although this service is essential to recovery efforts, transit agencies increasingly have an even more valuable solution available at their fingertips, electrical power generation. Transit agencies are uniquely poised with fuel reserves and raw power generation capacity unmatched by any other civilian organization, group, or agency.
To explore the feasibility of leveraging a transportation fleet for electrical power generation, the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) will lead a project team including The University of Texas – Center for Electromechanics (CEM), to demonstrate a Bus Exportable Power Supply (BEPS) using an existing hybrid bus. Over the past decade, CTE and CEM have partnered on several FTA projects to explore alternative fueled vehicles for transit authorities across the US. CEM will be leveraging modeling & simulation expertise to assess BEPS potential for delivering reliable power to various critical loads.
The BEPS platform will provide a readily deployable solution for power generation during emergency response and recovery by making use of existing transit assets in the form of diesel hybrid electric buses and abundant fuel reserves that at this time are not fully utilized during disaster response. It is envisioned as a fully integrated power supply that transforms hybrid buses into a mobile power generator. The system builds upon the existing hybrid bus architecture making use of the onboard diesel generator, battery energy storage, and diesel fuel capacity. Imagine the following case example; the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has a fleet of 1600 diesel hybrids buses and 8 fueling depots with over 146,000 gallons of diesel fuel. This represents an electric power and energy generation capacity (320 MW and 5 GWh stored energy) that could have provided power for 2 weeks to the 80,000 residents in 423 buildings who were impacted by hurricane Sandy.
Currently, many questions still exist regarding procurement and utilization of a BEPS system. Emergency response involves a variety of organizations with different core objectives in addition to the general public. In order to capture the knowledge of emergency response professionals, CTE and CEM will partner with Hagerty Consulting and a team of cross-industry experts to investigate technologies, methods, practices and techniques for utilizing the BEPS system. The first expert panel meeting provided the team with valuable feedback:
Improved Response Time: BEPS could address the two primary issues that exist under the current disaster relief system (1) supply/availability of generators and (2) response time. When a disaster occurs, the demand for electricity can often exceed generator supply and the process for obtaining a generator is time consuming. Requests for power start at local levels and progress to state and federal levels. In addition, a site requiring generator backup must first be inspected by the Army Corps Engineers, which can be time consuming in the midst of a disaster. Once all requests and site visits are complete, the generator stock is prioritized based on need. If a site meets all criteria, several days later a generator might arrive.
The panel saw BEPS as a great solution for a readily deployable asset on the LOCAL level. The vision is to use BEPS as a plug-and-play setup where local authorities will have pre-screened critical infrastructure, such as schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, or hospitals, where a transfer switch and receptacle will be pre-installed to tie in the BEPS system when needed. This way, when the BEPS arrives on-site and the building facility manager could connect the power. Unlike the current process, this concept would allow local authorities the independence to act quickly, removing engineering assessment requirements prior to powering a building. By removing the building assessment requirement from emergency response protocols, disaster response times can be reduced from up to a week to hours or even minutes.
Cost Savings: Since the BEPS system would reside during normal operation with the local Transit Authority, critical facilities would not have to pay to install and maintain a generator, only a transfer switch. In addition, maintenance on backup generators is often overlooked in lieu of a disaster, thus often are inoperable when needed. Alternatively, the BEPS buses would be routinely maintained while in service by the transit agency.
The BEPS system promises to provide a unique and innovative asset for FTA and transit agencies to harness their power and energy capabilities and provide a service to citizens that goes beyond mobility and transportation. Such a mobile and readily deployable asset could respond to emergencies in a timely manner, on par with the speed of first responders. A bus equipped with BEPS could power up to 30 homes, or several BEPS buses could be paralleled to power a hospital. Furthermore, if seats were removed, a BEPS equipped bus could be readily transformed into a triage center, mobile command center, or shelter with its own power. The possibilities of how and where BEPS could be of value are numerous, and ultimately BEPS would provide a mobile power supply asset currently not realized in existing emergency response and recovery activities and plans.