Public transit has always been the green transportation alternative. How do you make it even more environmentally-friendly and efficient for the 21st Century? The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), in partnership with Viridity Energy Inc. — a Philadelphia smart grid company — is bringing the regenerative braking energy technology long used by hybrid-electric vehicles to its Market-Frankford Line elevated trains.
But where hybrid-electric buses and cars have onboard batteries to capture and store energy created when the vehicle brakes, trains don’t have a storage capability and the energy created during the regenerative braking process can only be used by a nearby accelerating train. And if there’s no train? That energy is lost, vanishing into the air.
SEPTA and Viridity have devised a way to capture, store and reuse braking “El” trains’ energy, building upon the idea of an on-board battery.
In a first-of-its kind “wayside energy storage” project, SEPTA and Viridity have devised a way to capture, store and reuse braking “El” trains’ energy, building upon the idea of an on-board battery. Instead of just one battery like that on a car or bus, SEPTA’s system is several large batteries (produced by Saft Batteries Inc.) and a controller (produced by ABB Envitech, Inc.) located offsite (“wayside”) at SEPTA’s Letterly Substation. The stored energy can later be used by SEPTA to meet a variety of energy needs on the portion of the Market-Frankford Line served by that substation, including powering additional trains.
Wayside energy storage is green for reasons other than being socially responsible by reducing the amount of energy SEPTA needs from the power grid. The project will be a money saver and revenue generator for SEPTA — an important outcome at a time when transportation organizations are being looked upon to develop innovative means of creating income.
Much like SEPTA’s hybrid buses reduce fuel consumption, the battery is projected to decrease the electric bills at Letterly Substation by up to $190,000 per year. Additionally, the excess energy captured and stored by the battery can provide support to the electric grid via the frequency regulation market. Through its partnership with Viridity, SEPTA will deploy its energy surplus as virtual power into PJM Interconnection’s wholesale power frequency regulation and energy markets. SEPTA anticipates that frequency regulation and other demand response programs could generate up to $250,000 annually in new revenue.
“Through this pilot project, SEPTA will become even more energy efficient, which will help control operating costs — benefiting both customers and taxpayers. We’ve made our system cleaner, greener and more efficient in recent years: things like replacing traditional diesel buses with diesel-electric hybrids and installing energy-efficient lighting at stations, facilities and offices,” said SEPTA GM Joseph Casey. “These measures are helping us control costs in tough economic conditions and making us a better neighbor in the communities we serve."
The Letterly Substation project, funded by a $900,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority, is just the first in SEPTA’s wayside energy storage initiative. The agency received a $1.44 million FTA grant to install another device at a substation in Northeast Philadelphia. That grant will also be used to test alternative battery technology and determine the best fit for SEPTA’s propulsion system. The results will be shared within the transportation industry, allowing other rail transit agencies to determine how they might be able to use the wayside storage technology in their systems.
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The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Regional (commuter) Rail system was inherited from the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads and the infrastructure in many sections of the system has been serving the Philadelphia area for more than 100 years. Fifteen years ago, overhead catenary system (OCS) failures were a common occurrence on SEPTA Regional Rail, a result of fatigue cracks and wear. The all too common OCS failures were frustrating for SEPTA customers who occasionally found it difficult to depend on train service for their travels and for SEPTA, whose crews were constantly working to repair and maintain the system.
London is one of the grand cities of the world and in the midst of the cycling revolution. Led by the city’s transport organization – Transport for London, but supported by more fundamental changes in the city’s society, economy and perceptions of lifestyle and mobility, cycling is “on a roll”!
Tech-enabled ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft already appear to be acting as a complement to public transit. Uber analyzed its Los Angeles trip data to in this light. Over the course of a month, Uber found that 22 percent of trips taken near Metro stations took place during rush hour (between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday). This data could be telling us that people are using Uber like they might use bikeshare, as a last-mile and first-mile connection to transit.
Driverless cars have been in the news for quite some time. Last September, I speculated in PC 360, an insurance trade magazine, that insurance premiums for autos could decrease by as much as 40% over the next five years as autonomous cars made travel much safer. I increased my estimate to a 75% decrease in insurance premiums by extending the timeline to 15 years. When I wrote those two articles, I remember thinking how much of a personal paradigm shift was needed to accept a driverless car as safe. Now, it appears that driverless buses are in the near future as well.
What do transit authorities like SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART have in common other than transporting thousands, even millions of riders every day? All were recently ranked as four of the U.S.’s 500 “Best Employers” by Forbes magazine.
SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART were among 25 organizations included in Forbes’ “Transportation & Logistics” category, along with Southwest Airlines, Amtrak, CSX, Union Pacific and Greyhound. In fact, SEPTA (#33) and MBTA (#49) placed higher than Apple (#55) and SEPTA was the highest ranked company in Pennsylvania.