Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
October, 26th 2012

Ron Ambrosio, Global Research Executive, Energy & Utilities, IBM

By Ron Ambrosio

Over the last few years, an interesting transformation has been taking shape in the Pacific Northwest.

Research laboratories, product developers, testing companies, utility engineering departments, and universities have been working together to design and implement a new and smarter approach to managing electricity delivery.

This approach, being developed by the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Project (PNW-SGDP), called for devising ways to move electricity from generation plants through customer equipment, such as smart meters, heating and cooling systems, and just about everything in between.

One of the largest regional smart grid demonstrations in North America, the PNW-SGDP, is led by Battelle and involves a host of partners, including the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, 11 regional utilities, the University of Washington, Washington State University, and Central Washington University. Technology partners including Alstom Grid, Quality Logic, and 3TIER, Inc., and others are also involved. (A complete list:

The PNW-SGDP includes many different types of smart grid functions in test sites across five states in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. In addition to 60,000 participating customers, 11 distribution utilities and their sub teams, the project has a regional team leading the overall design, development and integration of a Transactive Energy Management system.

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On Wednesday October 24, after more than two years of preparation, the PNW-SGDP went live and the Transactive Energy Management system went into effect. Attendees at a launch event at the University of Washington witnessed how the new system will allow project managers to accumulate and manage energy usage information from all energy assets in the project, including data from electric vehicle charging and battery storage systems. They will also be able to monitor the grid in real-time through a single management system that spans the entire delivery chain – a capability that was once impossible.

Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center (EIOC) located at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which Battelle operates for the Department of Energy. The data from the project will be analyzed at the EIOC.

The Transactive Energy Management system, called Transactive Control, will enhance, rather than replace, the existing methods used to operate the electric system. It will fill an increasingly critical gap between the longer-term forecasting and management performed by regional system operators like the Bonneville Power Administration. Prior to this, system operators would typically plan around ‘hour-ahead,’ ‘day-ahead’ and longer forecasting to determine such things as when large generators should be turned on.


Now, the Transactive Energy Management system is able to communicate, make decisions and take action every five minutes through signals that reflect the changing electrical demand and costs of energy delivery throughout the grid. This system takes into consideration ordinary household appliances, such as heating and cooling systems, clothes dryers and water heaters, electric vehicle charging systems, and many other energy assets, including future large-scale battery banks.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State interacts with University of Washington students who will use energy management devices to monitor and study energy use as part of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. (Photo courtesy of the University of Washington)

With this new platform, IBM along with other project participants are testing smart grid functions to manage the variability of renewables such as wind, improve response time, and reduce outages – with the goal to build a more resilient, automated and smarter grid.

Both system operators and local utilities will benefit from the increased visibility by allowing them to manage, automate and balance grid load. For example, the Transactive system will help reduce electrical load by calling on batteries and other distributed energy resources if there is an unexpected failure, such as a downed power line or a blown transformer. Such automated responses can help the grid survive situations that in the past have caused localized or wide-area outages.

At the same time, more than 60,000 metered residential, commercial and industrial customers involved in the demonstration will also benefit, indirectly through the improved reliability and operational efficiency offered by their utility. They’ll benefit directly through the ability to manage their energy in a more informed environment while also becoming an active part of the solution. By providing consumers with real-time access to their electrical use, they’ll be able to make informed decisions that will help reduce consumption, as well as their overall energy bill.

With the project up and running, the industry will now have a platform to export lessons and best practices to the rest of the nation, and the world. Now we watch, listen and learn.

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