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Published on June 19th, 2012 | by Andrew


Pacific Northwest Grid Operators Ready US’ Largest Smart Grid Trial

June 19th, 2012 by  

In what’s sure to be a closely watched smart grid event, project partners have installed the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project’s transaction control system, which, if all goes well, will dynamically manage electricity demand, supply and grid conditions across interconnected assets of 11 utilities.

“We are in the midst of an impressive transformation of our electric power system. Technological advances are elevating the prospects of a more resilient, sustainable and efficient future power grid. Yet the question remains of how to get us there. What technologies work well? Can we make a business case for a ‘smarter’ grid that can help, for example, integrate renewable energy that is coming online at a tremendous rate?

“The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, or PNW-SGDP, the largest in the nation, is trying to answer some of those questions,” writes Carl Imhoff, who manages the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Energy and Environment Directorates’ electricity infrastructure market sector.



Interdependent: Renewable Energy & Smart Grids

Interconnecting and centrally managing grid assets across the region promises finer, more detailed information on grid demand and supply, and enables quicker response times, as well as more accurate, efficient market pricing. The ability of more efficiently integrating intermittent renewable energy resources, such as grid-connected wind and solar energy, is another sought-after advantage, one that could further bring down the cost of clean, renewable energy.

“Integration of renewable energy provides another example of how the transactive system will work. Right now in the Pacific Northwest, we have about 4,000 megawatts of wind energy in the Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) footprint,” Imhoff explains.

BPA wind generation capacity is expected to double over the next couple of years to reach some 12,000 MW. That would be equal to the amount of hydropower generated by federal dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers, he continues.

“Our system is capable of incentivizing the consumption of renewable energy, so that the region can benefit from use of its clean natural resources when they are most abundant, and reduce the amount of ‘spilled’ wind power—excess wind-generated electricity that has to be dumped. Perhaps more importantly, the system engages the responsive assets to help balance the intermittent nature of wind energy and allows optimal operation of generation resources such as the hydro system.”

Multiple Mutual Benefits

Realizing these goals would yield multiple substantial benefits: reducing regional CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as land and water pollution prominent among them. In addition is the potential to smooth out peaks in electricity use, which, along with better renewable energy resource integration, keep a lid on future cost increases, according to Imhoff.

“Our project is a first step towards achieving these objectives,” he writes. “Last April, we successfully connected key system software and hardware components from the project’s technology partners: 3TIER, Alstom, IBM, Netezza and Quality Logic with Battelle’s Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center (EIOC), and demonstrated communication connectivity to several of our utility partners.

“At the same time, our utility partners are transforming the region’s grid by installing 80,000 smart grid enabling assets such as smart meters, and 12,000 smart grid-responsive assets, which include water heater load controllers, solar panels, battery storage units and backup generators.”

Reliable, secure telecommunications are integral to the success of smart grid projects. Electric, gas and water utilities are increasingly turning to public cellular networks to provide communications for smart grid networks, according to an April research report from Pike Research. 


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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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