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US Northwest Perfect
for Smart Grid Rollout

by Staff, August 29, 2009

Researchers in the Northwest have proven that smart grid technology can help us use energy much more efficiently. Now utilities in the region are preparing to show the rest of the country how it can be done across a broad region with new experiments.

Battelle, the company that runs the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), will direct a smart grid project involving twelve utilities in five states. PNNL conducted a landmark year-long study ending in August of 2008 that found consumers saved an average of 10 percent on their electric bills and reduced power usage by 15 percent.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) paid for the experiment that showed consumers reacted to energy price changes by shifting their usage to time periods when it was less expensive to use. The same study also determined that utilities could use smart appliances that work to smooth out demand spikes. Portland General Electric (PGE) managed the smart appliances in the study and plans to work with Battelle on the new project.

The DOE has taken applications for smart grid stimulus grants from utility companies and third-party developers. Battelle has applied for a grant worth $178 million that will build upon knowledge gained the first time around.

"That was just 120 homes," said Carl Imhoff, a research director at Battelle. "We're extending that to up to 60,000 units participating, not just 120."

Imhoff indicated his project is distinct from numerous smaller proposals across the country because of its regional impact. "It's cutting across a layer of the utility system that has not been done as aggressively," said Imhoff. "Using twelve different entities like this is a very compelling and bold experiment."

The Battelle experiment isn't at the cutting-edge of technology. PNNL worked with the Bonneville Power Administration in the previous study and will do so again. Participating utilities will maintain their test sites - each forming an important component of the regional smart grid.

According to Mark Osborn of PGE, the project will serve as a microcosm for the national smart grid of the future. PGE will maintain various renewable power sources and new storage technology that will shift transmission from the different sources as needed.

Wind and solar power aren't available all the time so storage is essential. Sometimes the wind blows too hard and provides more than needed - battery technology is important in these situations as well.

Osborn said the project will include upgraded power transmission lines, smart meters, smart appliances, battery storage, and diesel generators. "We did a few pilots here and there with appliances and battery technology," he explained. "But we need to integrate them in one location where they're all functioning together."

Imhoff said Battelle will do what PGE is proposing for the entire region. The company expects to find out by the end of 2009 whether or not they win a grant.

"The group felt this would offer the most compelling test of what the smart grid would be to consumers and utilities in the region," said Imhoff. "There have been a number of one-off things, smart meters [for example], but the group felt the next level of investigation is to evaluate the true benefit of orchestrating a broad number of concepts at all the levels of the power system."

US Northwest Perfect for Smart Grid Rollout, August 29, 2009

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