By Ron Melton
Imagine a hot, sweltering day. Nearly everyone is using an air conditioner to keep cool. So much energy is needed that area power plants, wind farms and rooftop solar panels are struggling to keep up.
What if the clothes drier, water heater, car charger and other electric devices in your home and office could adjust their energy use to help in situations like this? And what if temporarily adjusting how those devices operate also reduced your power bill?
Results of a 5-year, $178-million smart grid pilot project show such a scenario isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s possible – if some technical and logistical hurdles are overcome, concluded the leaders of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.
The project, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and project participants, tested 55 different smart grid technologies at 11 test sets across five Northwest states: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
As with any big, complex project, this demonstration project’s outcomes were many. But they can mostly be summed up with this sentence: smart grid technologies can improve energy efficiency and possibly reduce power costs, though more research and development is needed to support broader smart grid deployment.
The degree of savings varied with each technology and test location. But one example is the use of smart meters by Avista Utilities in Pullman, Washington. The meters’ remote capabilities enabled the utility to immediately start and stop electric service for its customers, which could eliminate 2,714 service calls in a year and save up to $235,000 annually.
One of the areas that needs more attention is data management. That’s because the numerous sensors that would be deployed in a utility’s smart grid will produce huge amounts of data. For that data to enable a truly smart grid, utilities and others need to be able to understand and use it.
The results of the demonstration project indicate the utilities need new and improved tools for managing smart grid technology and data. These tools should support situational awareness of both the grid, based on the data, and of the state of the smart grid equipment. It is crucial that the utilities know that the equipment is operating and that the sensors and information-enabled devices are producing high quality, useable data.
As described in an earlier blog by Ron Ambrosio, IBM Distinguished Engineer, another key result is that “transactive” control – automatic, electronic transactions between energy providers and users about whether or not to buy or sell power – works and can provide many benefits on a regional grid.
The project used transactive signals that represented the predicted cost and availability of power in the present and several days into the future. These signals were updated every five minutes and sent to participating utilities. When the signals indicate higher costs – such as when the AC is blasting on a hot day – the project’s smart grid technologies were designed to reduce power use.
The project used an IBM model of the Northwest power grid to see how the region’s energy use might change if it used more transactive control. The IBM model results showed that the Northwest’s peak power demand could be reduced by about 7 to 8 percent if 30 percent of the regional electric grid used transactive, demand-responsive equipment. A nearly 8 percent reduction in peak power demand translates into significant cost savings since power used at such times is usually the most expensive power.
To learn more about how the project’s results could inform future power grid modernization, check out our Technology Performance Report Highlights document, a 32-page summary of the project’s full findings: http://www.pnwsmartgrid.org/docs/PNW_SGDP_AnnualReport.pdf
Ron Melton directed the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project on behalf of Battelle, the nonprofit research organization that manages Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy. IBM was part of the core implementation team on the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.