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BPA Seeks Efficiencies, Less Pollution

by Associated Press
Great Falls Tribune, May 3, 2007

MISSOULA - The Bonneville Power Administration is joining a nationwide effort to develop new technologies, cut energy use and reduce greenhouse gases, said Terry Oliver, BPA's chief technology-innovation officer.

"In the future," Oliver said, "we will live in a carbon-constrained world. The question is, what does that mean for our industry?"

Bonneville is the largest supplier of hydroelectric energy in the Pacific Northwest.

Oliver's position, created in 2005, is a sign of the times, as climate change and containing carbon emissions become larger issues for energy producers.

The nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute is coordinating the push to develop new energy technologies that cut power use and curb greenhouse gases.

Oliver said one does not necessarily lead to the other.

"We've been good at the efficiency side of things, but not so good at reducing the greenhouse emissions," he told the Missoulian.

The regional power grid carries power from hydroelectric dams, coal-fired plants and natural-gas facilities.

As demand rises and falls, Oliver said, the blend changes. That means a technology that increases energy efficiency must be properly timed if it is also to cut greenhouse gases.

Otherwise, "we could reduce use at a time when it's all coming from hydro, only to increase use at a time when it comes from a coal plant."

That would increase efficiency, but also increase emissions.

The EPRI research into new technologies also will focus on better understanding how power providers can change consumer demand, perhaps through "smart" appliances.

An example would be meters that show the real-time price of power throughout the day. Recent research indicates such meters compel homeowners to run dishwashers and clothes dryers during off hours, when costs are lower.

Another example, Oliver said, could be appliances equipped with computer chips allowing them to "talk" to the regional power grid. As demand peaks and the grid is strained, those appliances would automatically cut back.

In addition, the research initiative is exploring how best to measure carbon emissions and the gains made by carbon reductions.

"That's a big part of this initiative," Oliver said. "We need to be able to measure what we are doing now, and what works better."

Steve Hickock, BPA deputy administrator, said: "Greenhouse gas emissions are clearly going to be the focus of major political initiatives responding to global climate change" and the time has come to develop new tools and technologies.

Oliver is reluctant to predict which technologies hold the most promise, but he said: "There will be more pressure on power producers to account for their impacts on climate."

And that means more pressure to generate cleaner energy and conserve energy.

In recent years, he said, private-sector research and development has resulted in impressive breakthroughs, but they are protected by patents. Oliver believes the time has come for a more open and collaborative approach, which is why the quasi-governmental BPA has joined two dozen utilities across the nation in funding EPRI's new research initiative.

"We, and utilities across the country, were way behind in supporting the kind of research and development that will keep the lights on," Oliver said. "There just wasn't a perceived need for this 15 years ago."

Associated Press
BPA Seeks Efficiencies, Less Pollution
Great Falls Tribune, May 3, 2007

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