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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis February 10, 2012
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Innovation Helps Optimize Energy Usage for Public Transit
BY JIM McDOWALL, Business Development Manager, Energy Storage Systems Business Unit, Saft, Cockeysville, MD

As U.S. public transportation systems struggle to stay afloat in the face of economic challenges worsened by rising energy costs, the demand for advancements in smart grid technology is growing rapidly.

An innovative pilot project aimed at reducing costs and consumption while addressing environmental sustainability issues is making significant headway in Pennsylvania. Dubbed the “SEPTA Recycled Energy and Optimization Project,” the effort is a joint venture between Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the nation’s sixth largest public transit organization, and Viridity Energy, a Philadelphia-area smart grid company, with support from Saft, a designer and manufacturer of high-tech industrial batteries.

The project came about in response to observations and consequential concerns about the vast amounts of energy wasted over time because many public transit systems are unable adequately to exploit the excess of electricity created when a train is decelerating.

As a train slows, it consumes less energy than it produces; the surplus electric current converts to heat and dissipates. The purpose of the Energy Optimization Project is to harness the energy created from the regenerative braking ability of trains, and then store the energy for later use.

For this initiative, Saft is supplying one Intensium Max20 lithion-ion (Li-ion) megawatt energy storage system to capture train braking energy, then discharge it back to the third rail to power SEPTA trains leaving the station and to support overall rail traffic. In addition to improving power quality and saving energy, the project will also enable SEPTA to generate revenue by participating in the PJM Interconnection market for demand-side frequency regulation and wholesale power. (PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia.)

As a fully integrated, containerized Li-ion solution, the Saft battery system should provide efficiency of greater than 95 percent and maximize system availability while helping to manage power flows. Through this project, Saft is supplying a dual purpose trackside energy storage system (ESS) unique to North America—a system manufactured at a new dedicated facility in Jacksonville, FL.

Envitech Energy, a provider of alternative energy-storage traction solutions to the public transit industry, serves as system integrator for the project and will deploy its ENVISTORE System to control the energy exchange between the network and Saft’s ESS: capturing the braking energy from the trains, storing it in the ESS, and releasing it to the third rail on command. The system will also ensure line receptivity during braking, providing voltage regulation to improve the performance of the system.

The pilot project has both immediate and far-reaching implications. By reducing SEPTA’s electricity consumption, the project will help the agency lower its carbon emissions by 1,258 tons per year. Taking it a step further, following a successful demonstration period, a strong pilot could lead to potential deployment at up to 32 SEPTA substations, presenting transit systems with opportunities to resolve their fiscal challenges while simultaneously improving grid reliability in highly populated metropolitan areas.

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