May 17, 2011
By Cassandra Profita for Ecotrope: A new day is dawning for transmission in the Northwest. Smart grid technology being tested in 60,000 homes this year could help the region balance the peaks and valleys of renewable power. So, the power grid in the Pacific Northwest is still dumb. But that’s not the end of the story.
I talked with Carl Imhoff at the Pacific Northwest National Lab about the future of power transmission in the Northwest. Imhoff is the manager for electricity infrastructure markets at PNNL. He heads up research and development programs on transmission and smart grid technologies.
“We’re asking the grid to do more than it has traditionally done. We’re asking it to help the nation solve policy issues like clean energy generation, reducing carbon emissions and oil imports.” – Carl Imhoff
And he says even though the Northwest doesn’t have a structured, competitive power market that would allow consumers to shop around for power rates, the region’s power grid is getting smarter and more efficient. And there are numerous new technologies that promise better days to come.
Tools that are being tested around the Northwest have the power to create a smarter grid and smarter power customers, he said. With smart appliances, consumers can plan to use energy when it’s cheaper and help reduce the gridlock at peak usage times. But overhauling the entire system so that everyone can participate is a “multi-decade journey,” he said. “It takes a long time.”
“We as a nation for the last 100 years asked the grid to do two things with our power: keep it affordable and keep it reliable. Now, we’re adding to those expectations.
We’re asking the grid to do more than it has traditionally done. We’re asking it to help the nation solve policy issues like clean energy generation, reducing carbon emissions and oil imports.
At the same time we’re asking the grid to do more, we’re also bringing in new tools that let us improve on today’s practices so we can do them better, faster and smarter, with better controls.”
Those tools are on their way to customers, Imhoff said.
Smart grid testing: Round 1
A test project in 2006-07 showed that customers and utilities in the Northwest can benefit from smart grid technologies – even without a competitive power market.
The Gridwise project on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula allowed power customers ways to reduce their energy use in response to higher electricity prices. It used smart appliances – including thermostats, hot water heaters and clothes dryers – that “bid” on power when it reached a certain price point and reduced usage when prices were higher. The project wound up cutting power usage peaks by 15 percent and saving consumers 10 percent on their electric bills without a noticeable difference in how the appliances were operating.
“The Northwest is not pursuing structured markets because we have a lot of public power here and some investor-owned utilities,” Imhoff said. “But in our 2007 experiment we asked could we – in an environment where there aren’t structured markets – could we send some sort of incentive signal to the consumers with the help from utilities to reflect the fact that power is more and less expensive at different times of the day. When demand is way up or supply is way down, power costs can go way up. But those aren’t conveyed to the consumer.” Read more
November 24, 2009
This Popular Mechanics’ story on smart grid offers an esoteric, but interesting look on what exactly is meant by “smart grid” and why it’s important in thinking about the electric grid of the future. Here’s a snapshot from the story:
There’s another potential problem with lumping the entire future of the grid into a poorly defined buzzword. Utility-controlled refrigerators and grid visualization software might help grid managers predict a mid-August brownout, but these are emergency countermeasures, intended to kick in during brief spikes in demand. These aspects of grid management won’t make possible permanent increases in power consumption. What if plug-in hybrid electric vehicles become a mainstay in American households? This switch could lower American consumption in oil while significantly increasing the demand for electricity. “Can our existing system handle it? Given that the grid is stressed already, probably not,” says Brad Allenby, a professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering at Arizona State University. “The difficulty with the smart grid, as a term, is that it implies a technological issue. The biggest barriers to implementing more intelligent electrical systems are probably not going to be technological, but financial and institutional. We’re trivializing the problem in ways that almost guarantee that we will optimize subsystems, while the entire system remains vulnerable.” Read more
October 12, 2009
A couple stories caught my eye over the weekend. In Irving, Texas, the city council approved switching to solar-powered LED street lights, according to a Dallas Morning News story. The story says the lights will save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, don’t need direct sunlight to charge, and, once charged, can power the lights for up to six days. Meanwhile, Scientific American reports that in Maui – the land of nearly perpetual sun – there are plans to test new smart grid technology in the luxury resort of Wailea. Hawaii has set an ambitious goal to by 2030 have 70 percent of its energy come from renewable sources. The island state faces some hurdles in integrating that technology, but they also have some serious motivation as Hawaii remains the nation’s most fossil-fuel dependent state, with imports supplying about 90 percent of its power needs.
Also, who can pass up the Solar Decathlon going on this week in Washington D.C. Twenty teams from colleges and universities across the country are competing to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Check out some of the designs on the contest website here or go to their facebook page here.
October 11, 2009
This article on SmartGrid News.com is pretty technical and utility manager focused, but it’s the wave of the future as far as managing electrical grids go.
You’re not truly wealthy if you have a hoard of money locked up in a vault with no key. Likewise, utilities are not truly empowered if they have hoards of data locked up inside their intelligent devices. Every utility that has microprocessor-based devices and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technology has access to an incredibly detailed historical record. That operational and nonoperational data describes virtually every function and event occurring in the generation, transmission, and distribution systems. Surprisingly, few utilities take advantage of this wealth of information. Why not? Many utilities don’t realize that (a) the data can be archived and (b) technology is already available to utilize that data. As a result, many utilities are short-changing their investment returns by failing to fully tap into the information from automated components and delivering it to decision makers. Read more
July 20, 2009
Southwest Washington’s high-tech industry is wising up to the business opportunities in the smart grid — also called the Internet for the electrical power grid.
Bringing the nation’s aging electrical grid into the information age will require overlaying the existing grid with a digital communications system that includes sensors, controls and wireless devices. Such systems, proponents say, will give utilities more precise control over power production and distribution that in turn creates energy savings, increases power quality and reliability, and allows more renewable energy sources to come online. Consumers will also gain more control over their energy costs through flexible utility rates and in-home monitoring devices a smart grid would allow.
June 5, 2009
With an aging energy infrastructure, rising energy costs, and increasing concerns about the economic and social effects of climate change, energy experts are looking to a new type of technology that integrates the digital age with the electric age.
The “smart grid” has become the buzz of the electric power industry, at the White House and among members of Congress. President Barack Obama says it’s essential to boost development of wind and solar power, get people to use less energy and to tackle climate change.
What smart grid visionaries see coming are home thermostats and appliances that adjust automatically depending on the cost of power; where a water heater may get juice from a neighbor’s rooftop solar panel; and where on a scorching hot day a plug-in hybrid electric car charges one minute and the next sends electricity back to the grid to help head off a brownout
It is where utilities get instant feedback on a transformer outage, shift easily among energy sources, integrating wind and solar energy with electricity from coal-burning power plants, and go into homes and businesses to automatically adjust power use based on prearranged agreements.