Novel Waste-to-Energy Microgrid Aims to Provide Resilience in Camden, New Jersey

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The partners proposing a novel waste-to-energy microgrid for Camden, New Jersey aim to provide resilience to a water processing facility, the city and county and local businesses.

waste-to-energy microgrid

CCMUA building, Covanta in background. Photo courtesy CCMUA

Sponsored by the city of Camden, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA), which operates the water processing facility, and the Camden County Improvement Authority, the Camden Microgrid Project plans to use electricity produced by the Covanta Energy Recovery Center, a waste-to-energy plant. The project will add solar, storage and natural gas to create a microgrid that will serve the utilities authority, the city, county and local businesses, said Christopher Orlando, county counsel and executive director of the improvement authority.

The project would allow the water processing plant to continue operating in an emergency, avoiding the water pollution associated with sewage overflow and other issues that the facility may face during a power outage.

The benefits to the county are numerous, said Orlando. “We believe with the microgrid there will be an opportunity to hook into all the county’s vital operations within the city of Camden and create resiliency for our operations.”

Lowering the county’s costs

In addition, the project is expected to reduce solid waste collection fees for the county — which now pays Covanta about $80 a ton for waste. The hope is that because Convanta will see higher electricity sales revenues, it will reduce collection fees.

The county also would lower its electricity costs by buying from the waste-to-energy microgrid, he said.

Electricity from the waste-to-energy plant is now sold at about 2 cents/kWh to the local utility. Under the plan, the electricity would be used in the microgrid and sold at higher rates to microgrid users.

The microgrid is expected to produce about 10 MW to 15 MW, said Joseph Sullivan, vice president, energy policy and development for Concord Engineering, one of the project’s engineers.

The project first began after Superstorm Sandy, when Camden recognized the need for resilience, especially at the water processing facility. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities provided grants for resilience projects, including for this effort. The initial feasibility study funded by the board called for a “sustainability loop” between the water processing facility and the Covanta waste-to-energy facility.

But the loop wasn’t a financially viable option, said Orlando. “We started penciling out the project, and the loop by itself was too expensive. We needed to expand out the microgrid with more users.”

As proposed, the project would be developed, financed, built, owned and operated through a partnership with private sector entity.

Sources of microgrid’s power

In addition to making use of electricity from the Covanta Energy Recovery Center, which operates boilers that process about 1,050 tons of solid waste a day and produce 21 MW, the project would likely incorporate solar from an existing 1.8 MW array at the water processing facility, plus from other commercial sites in the area. Excess generation would go to the grid, according to a summary of the project.

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One of the most important benefits of the project would be using filtered gray water from water processing facility for the Covanta waste-to-energy plant, instead of potable water from the local aquifer.

Another benefit would be ensuring that electricity from the Covanta plant is used in the local community, especially businesses in the Port of Camden. Right now, the electricity is sold to the regional grid, said Sullivan.

In addition, power from a local source would reduce system peaks and reduce stress on the grid.

Concord Engineering has been discussing the waste-to-energy microgrid with businesses located next to the Covanta waste-to-energy plant.

The Convanta plant creates “Class II” renewable energy from waste, as classified by the state, said Sullivan. That means it’s not as clean as “Class I” renewable energy sources such as solar, but qualifies as renewable energy.

The classifications are part of the state’s bold climate change goals. New Jersey wants 35% of energy sold in the state to come from qualifying renewable energy sources by 2025 and 50% by 2030.

Waste-to-energy microgrid as economic booster

“The clean, cheaper and resilient power that the microgrid will offer to its offtake customers should also prove attractive to new businesses with power quality needs, stimulating economic growth and jobs,” said a summary of the project.

The Port of Camden was first developed during World War II to build battleships and other war related equipment. Those businesses are no longer operating, and the region is looking for ways to revitalize the port.

Not only will the microgrid provide resilience and renewable energy to the parties involved, it’s expected to help boost the economy in the area. Current plans call for the Camden County Improvement Authority to be named a “re-development” entity in the area under state economic development laws. That would allow the authority to choose a project developer.

“There are significant energy off takers who are also major employers,” said Sullivan. “If we do this right, we can make this an attractive option.”

“Will COVID-19 Impact Microgrid Policy Progress? Watch the presentation by Concord Engineering’s Joseph Sullivan at the Microgrid Knowledge Virtual Conference.

Recent power outages

Meanwhile, the county recently experienced the challenges associated with losing power to a wastewater treatment plant, an event that highlighted the need for resilience.

“The CCMUA lost power last week during horrible storms and was down for 6.5 hours,” said Orlando. As a result, the town of Woodland’s treatment plant overflowed. “It was quite a cleanup. With a microgrid in place, you never lose power,” Orlando said.

Follow the progress of the Camden waste-to-energy microgrid. Subscribe to the free Microgrid Knowledge Newsletter.

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  1. While an interesting project, this story failed to highlight some of the public backlash to this microgrid project and the lack of community engagement around health concerns from Covanta. More here:

  2. Newt Ball says:

    This article is a bit frustrating, in that it lacks detail about the energy conversions. How is fuel derived from the sewage, and what is the nature of the fuel? How is the fuel converted to electricity ? Does the electricity go through changes and transmission lines before driving pumps?

  3. The waste to energy market is poised to show significant growth on account of the growing concerns regarding the proper disposal of waste along with the growing focus towards the generation of clean energy in many parts of the world.


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