Newly Opened, JFK’s TWA Hotel is Always Grid Independent

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The irony could not be any more conspicuous: the vintage Trans World Airline, known as TWA, ceased to exist nearly two decades ago. But a new hotel and conference center has formed around what had been the TWA terminal at New York’s JFK Airport — one that focuses on ultra modern energy technologies: a microgrid, on site electric generation and battery storage.

Indeed, the 512-room, 6-story hotel is particularly noteworthy from an energy perspective because it operates off grid — independent of local utility Consolidated Edison. This is unusual because most microgrids in the United States are grid-connected, especially if they are situated in an urban area. They typically disconnect only when a power outage occurs.

TWA hotel

The vintage TWA terminal has been transformed into an ultra-modern hotel. Photo courtesy of Veolia

Why off grid?

The building owner chose to keep the building off grid because connecting to Con Edison’s system is costly, says Jesse Douglas, vice president of business development for Veolia, which operates the 1 MW plant. By avoiding the utility link, the complex is able to save millions a year. 

“It is now in full operation,” says Douglas. “It is running on its own power, and it has severed its connection from the grid. It is able to supply all of the heating, cooling and electrical needs. It is truly a small grid. It has on-site energy generation, storage and feeds the need of the convention center and hotel.”

MCR Development completed the project in May with sustainability and reliability in mind. The TWA Hotel microgrid uses combined heat and power that runs on natural gas. It is able to capture heat created in the generation process — thermal energy that in conventional generators wafts off wasted — and use it to make hot water and to heat and cool (via chillers) the facility. Because the heat is not discarded into the atmosphere the facility is highly efficient, consuming less fuel than would be otherwise necessary, so lowering emissions.

“We have full care, custody and control of the power plant,” says Veolia’s Douglas. “We are there 24-7. We operate and maintain the plant. We meet the energy requirements of the facility.

The plant is designed with multiple engines and battery energy storage, he adds, in an interview. “Those two things are designed to make the facility totally reliable. The battery storage is picking up variances in power demand. That way the power generation side can do what it needs to do.”

Specifically, three natural gas-fired generators and an NEC-made battery will deliver electricity to the entire facility, offering more than enough to power it, meaning the excess can be stored and released during peak hours.

Up, up and way into the microgrid future

“It’s exciting to see MCR Development bring this iconic architectural landmark back to life while at the same time incorporate first-of-a-kind off-grid, hybridized microgrid technology,” adds Steve Fludder, CEO for NEC Energy Solutions. “MCR had the vision to combine brilliant design and engineering of the past with an energy strategy of the future.”

TWA microgrid

New TWA Hotel at JFK airport features an innovative microgrid. Photo by Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock.com

The TWA hotel uses an NEC energy storage solution that was designed expressly for “this innovative, behind the meter application,” he adds. “Our system is lightweight and compact enough to accommodate the unique rooftop location and powerful enough to handle the demanding needs of this unique hotel property.”

The combined heat and power unit was designed by Jenbacher, a subsidiary of General Electric. Veolia operates the plant under a long term maintenance contract. Waldron Engineering is the engineer of record for the new energy system. 

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Comments

  1. Off the Grid with Natural Gas, is this the continued short-term thinking of our wonderful capitalist experiment? TWA doesn’t owe the community anything, this is good corporate citizenship, no one else near this facility needs a DER on their local grid to help bring the renewable generation Distributed Energy Grid into existence. There must be more to this story than this, this must be a transitional step, right? Many independent natural gas fired power plants is not the solution, nice to see some microgrid engineers get paid, but again, if this isn’t some transitional phase, this is just more bunker mentality.

  2. Are the natural gas engines turbines? I applaud the use of natural gas. It is free at the well head, and the more that we use, instead of flaring off, the better off the planet. After coal has vanished, we can talk about capturing the CO2, which is a pure product in future CoorsTek reformers.

  3. The term “engine” indicates that they are not turbines but gas-fired reciprocating engines, manufacutured by Jenbacher. To clarify further, natural gas is anything but free. It is a commodity that is traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and transported via pipeline to the “city gate” where the local distribution company must deliver it to the site. Although there is no connection to ConEd, the local electric utility, there must most certainly be a firm gas connection to the local gas utility, which I believe in this region is National Grid. Although, not being familiar with the financials, Veolia, the managing entity of the “Microgrid” is responsible for purchasing the natural gas.

  4. I applaud this project. A Microgrid by definition, is a mini-electrical distribtion network, driven by either one or mutliple prime movers, usually encompassing multiple end users as customers, the purpose of which was more about resiliency than about energy savings. After Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, there was a push for the development of microgrids throughout the northeast. NYSERDA had a contest called New York Prize which offered funding mechanisims to microgrid developers with the best plan. The term “microgrid” has been hybridized to now include a waste heat component and limiting the distribution to one end user, thus making this an islanded Combined heat and power plant (islanded for electricity, not for fuel) rather than a true microgrid. That said, it’s exciting to the incorporation of battery storage being used for the excess power. Perhaps this will help drive the proliferation of alternated energy technologies in New York. Congrats on an amazing undertaking.

  5. Mark S Hewitt says:

    Congratulations on the completion of this microgrid project, while not the first even in NY it is of interest in noting the cost savings by NOT connecting to the primary utility provider. Quote: “By avoiding the utility link, the complex is able to save millions a year”. This factor alone could encourage future development of such power plants. I also applaud the use of natural gas as a stage of energy production for todays market, it may still be several years before truly renewable and non-CO2 based energy production will be scalable and commercially viable.

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