We Have Seen the Future: Findings from the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project

The recently-concluded Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project was “…a grand experiment, delivering useful results that will help shape future smart grid activity in our nation,” according to Dr. Ron Melton of Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, the project’s director.

But don’t just take his word for it. A quick read through the project’s final Technology Performance Report to its primary funder, the U.S. Department of Energy, reveals an impressive portfolio of real-world lessons learned from this $178-million, five-year, five-state effort.

The project was intended to:

  1. Lay the foundation for a sustainable regional smart grid that will continue to grow following project completion
  2. Develop and validate an interoperable communication and control infrastructure using incentive signals to coordinate interactions between a broad range of customer and utility assets: demand response, distributed generation, energy storage, distribution automation.
  3. Measure and validate smart grid costs and benefits to customers, utilities, regulators and the region
  4. Contribute real-world experience to the development of smart grid standards and transactive control methodologies
  5. Bring smart grid technology to bear on the growing issue of renewables, particularly wind, integration.

As the report articulates, no previous project has ever tackled transactive control implementation, coordinating distributed energy resources across multiple utilities in multiple states, on this scale, in the real world, or encountered so many “unanticipated and perplexing technical issues.” Still, Battelle and its co-sponsors (including the Bonneville Power Administration, Avista, and Portland General Electric) persevered, ultimately producing an extensive list of accomplishments:

  • The project demonstrated that regional transactive control is feasible, and that assets, such as smart systems and end-user devices, can respond dynamically, on a wide scale
  • It embedded $80 million worth of cutting edge technology in the Northwest energy grid, including nearly 31,000 smart meters, that will remain in place to benefit consumers and facilitate future smart grid deployment
  • It laid the foundation for effective regional collaboration among federal entities, utilities, universities, researchers and consumers in making regional-scale smart grid a reality
  • It showed a superior ability to accurately state and predict wind resources
  • It demonstrated the ability to generate practical incentive signals and communicate them between the system’s nodes

The project also identified a number of technical issues that will need to be addressed prior to region-scale Smart Grid implementation. Among them: the need for many more responsive assets able to take advantage of the incentive signals; the need for greater asset flexibility; the need for faster exchange of transactive signals, as well as an incentive function to tie actions to relieve transmission congestion with energy costs.

In the end, though, Battelle’s report answers far more questions than it raises. Have you read the Smart Grid demonstration project’s Technology Performance Report? If so, what were your takeaways?