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Smart Grid Demo Results Reveal Efficiencies, but More R&D Needed

Neil Strother — July 17, 2015

The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project (PNW-SGDP), one of the largest in the United States, has been completed, and the project’s latest report shows a variety of new technologies can indeed reduce costs and improve energy efficiency. Additional research is required, however, to advance smart grid deployments elsewhere, according to project managers.

Transactive Control

One of the focal points of the 5-year PNW-SGDP was to evaluate a transactive control system in which decisions are distributed across the grid, even allowing consumers or individual devices to make informed choices about usage. This system is based on a two-way communication process that uses signals about the delivered cost of electricity and the amount of power needed by end devices, such as a smart appliance. The system shares information along the grid, from generation sources like dams or wind turbines to a residence. According to one of the models developed by IBM, peak demand in the Northwest could be reduced by 7.8% if 30% of the region’s grid used the necessary demand response (DR) equipment.

Saving Money, Energy

Some of the cost savings shown in the project were significant. For instance, smart meters with remote turn-on and turn-off functionality could eliminate more than 2,700 service calls a year and save an estimated $235,000 annually for Avista Utilities in its Pullman, Washington, service area. Avista also tested controls that lowered distribution system voltage by 2.1%, which would translate into about 7.8 GWh of annual energy savings, or about $500,000 in reduced annual costs for its Pullman distribution power lines.

Challenges

The project also uncovered some challenges for utilities. For instance, some of the participants were not prepared for the large amounts of data generated by the equipment, and occasionally data was mislabeled with incorrect units or times. In addition, a lack of technology standards made it difficult for various equipment to interoperate, which required extra effort to get products from different vendors to work together. Also, the relatively nascent market for the equipment created issues, especially when some manufacturers went out of business or stopped servicing their gear, and some of the equipment just failed outright.

The $179 million project, which was led by Battelle, included 11 utilities across five states (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming), the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), two universities, and multiple technology companies. Funding came from the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), through the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and from matching money from participants.

The PNW-SGDP lays a foundation for further grid modernization. Other utilities and stakeholders can leverage these findings and adapt them for their own future needs. And though the research is not fully conclusive, as the report authors point out, there are useful baseline results to work from which can enable the next wave of grid innovation.

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