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JFK Hotel Needs No Grid

ID 101810118 © Denis Belitskiy | Dreamstime.com

The John F. Kennedy International Airport is an embarrassment. It’s mind boggling that New York, arguably the most important city in the world, has such an outdated, sluggish airport. But concerned travellers need not fret. The embattled transportation hub is getting a new hotel that is sure to solve none of its core problems.

All jokes aside, the new TWA Terminal does look pretty neat. The hotel was originally the brainchild of Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. However, right before the airport hotel was slated to open, boeing introduced the gigantic 747,  rendering TWA’s planned dimensions unviable. It’s since been re-designed with modern dimensions, although the developer has kept close Saarinen’s aesthetic tastes. That’s to say that it’s all very Mad Men-esque, harkening back to the golden days of flying, before air travel became synonymous with cramped seats and stale pretzels.

There are plenty of cool hotels in the world, but what really makes TWA interesting is how it’ll be powered. The two building, 505 room compound will feature an off the grid  power-generation and storage system. Specifically, four Austrian, gas-fired electric generators will deliver 1.5 megawatts to the hotel, which is 50% over the projected need. A battery the size of a mack truck will store excess energy, saving it for peak usage times. The setup will allow TWA to operate completely free of NYC’s grid.  

Up until now, no other developers have been willing to go totally off the grid with large projects in the city. This move by TWA could prove very profitable. Properties that feature independant generation systems but still hook up to the grid are charged big fees by Con Ed. If TWA’s bet is successful, other developers may follow suit.

Henry Craver's picture

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 24, 2019 9:51 pm GMT

Henry, what about JFK's new terminal going off the grid do you consider "cool" or "interesting"? By generating electricity using its own gas generators instead of NYISO's efficient grid generation, TWA will not only be abandoning NYISO's economies of scale, but the 25% of Westchester County's electricity generated by Indian Point Energy Center with zero carbon emissions.

Together with inefficiencies of storage (storage wastes energy), TWA's new facilities will end up creating at least 35% more carbon emissions than they are now for the same amount of electricity.

"Up until now, no other developers have been willing to go totally off the grid with large projects in the city. This move by TWA could prove very profitable."

If burning gas to make electricity is now considered "cool," would burning coal qualify as "awesome"?

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on May 29, 2019 4:18 pm GMT

Bob, I think you're conflating the word "interesting" with "good"

Greg Whiting's picture
Greg Whiting on Jun 1, 2019 5:57 pm GMT

Bob, this is a perfect example of why a holistic analysis, including all energy types and costs, is necessary instead of just focusing on the carbon footprint of the electricity.  The cost differential between retail gas plus on-site generation, and retail electricity, is likely to be highly relevant.  Without knowing anything else about this project, it's probably the driving factor.

As regards carbon, one also has to consider energy for heating and cooling.  Replacing gas or steam heat has carbon footprint implications as well.  The above doesn't say whether the gas system is a CHCP system that will use the waste heat from the generators for heat in the winter, water heating, and absorption cooling chilling in the summer.  If it is, holistic energy efficiency can be over 80% relative to the energy content of the gas that's fed in.

As regards storage, it sounds like the storage system is providing a load that enables storage of electric energy that would otherwise be dissipated as waste heat when the generators are running below capacity in off-peak hours.  The storage system will indeed have turnaround losses, but its energy is "free."

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 2, 2019 12:05 am GMT

"As regards carbon, one also has to consider energy for heating and cooling.  Replacing gas or steam heat has carbon footprint implications as well."

Greg, I was assuming JFK would maintain its natural gas connection and continue to use gas to heat and cool the terminal and hotel.

"The above doesn't say whether the gas system is a CHCP system that will use the waste heat from the generators for heat in the winter, water heating, and absorption cooling chilling in the summer."

Another source says yes, the system will be a CHCP power system which will use "waste" heat from the generators to provide/augment hot water boilers and air conditioning. According to Waste Heat Rules of Thumb from Southern California Gas, running these generators at capacity could provide either 375 kW of power for cooling, or 168 kW to heat water, from waste heat.

"...it sounds like the storage system is providing a load that enables storage of electric energy that would otherwise be dissipated as waste heat when the generators are running below capacity in off-peak hours."

Not following you here...how would waste heat become electrical energy?

From my source:

"The generators will be set to run at a steady power output 24 hours a day to maximize their lifespan..."

The primary purpose of this project seems to be saving money, nothing wrong with that. But whether the project is saving any emissions is unlikely - probably, it's creating more. To have a 1.5 MW electrical generator constantly running, even when batteries are charged and electrical demand is low - essentially, using it as a heater - is an extremely inefficient way to provide heating and cooling (think of running your car in the garage to help heat your home). Regarding this specific implementation the devil is in the details.

In the bigger picture:

• Getting a terminal and hotel off the grid doesn't save Com Ed any money - the company still has to provide electricity transmission to the rest of the airport and surrounding area. Electricity ratepayers in Jamaica, NY will be forced to make up the difference in transmission maintenance costs.

• Years from now, when the grid is upgraded to cleaner electricity from renewables/nuclear, JFK and other independent generators will still be burning gas. Who will be responsible for their carbon emissions, or are we forced to allow them to pollute with impunity?

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