$178 million project to improve NW power system

By Drew Foster, Herald staff writerNovember 25, 2009 

KENNEWICK — The Northwest has been selected for a landmark $178 million Smart Grid Demonstration Project that could help lay the groundwork for more energy-efficient power distribution nationwide.

Battelle will manage the Northwest project, which will involve more than 60,000 customers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

The Northwest project is one of 16 chosen by the Department of Energy, the agency announced Tuesday.

A smart grid is a system designed to improve power delivery and reliability and increase efficiency by using intelligent, two-way communication technologies, which includes everything from interactive appliances in homes to substation automation and sensors on transmission lines.

Generators of electricity, suppliers and users are all part of the equation.

With increased communication and information, smart grid technology enables real-time monitoring of electric energy use, an exchange of information about supply and demand and adjustments to power consumption when the grid is under stress to ensure consistent delivery of electricity.

About half of the project's money will be provided by the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the other half will come from utilities, technology companies and other participating entities.

The entire Northwest project should create about 1,500 jobs at its peak across the region in manufacturing, installing and operating smart grid equipment, telecommunications networks, software and controls.

Battelle's Ron Melton, the project's director, said it'll take about two years for the project team, which includes 15 utilities and the Bonneville Power Administration, to install the smart infrastructure. Battelle operates the Richland-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the Department of Energy.

"Around this time in 2011 we should have the infrastructure up and running," he said.

The project team will then spend the next two years gathering information, evaluating the technology and researching the smart grid's performance, Melton said.

In addition to the public utilities, Battelle and BPA, Melton said technology companies such as AREVA and IBM will help develop the smart infrastructure.

"The Smart Grid Demonstration Project is meant to push the envelope of the use of smart grid technologies," he said.

Benton PUD is one of the 15 utilities on the project team.

Rick Dunn, Benton PUD's director of engineering, said the public utility's involvement will include installing intelligent electronic devices on four feeders that distribute electricity from its Reata substation. Those devices should allow the Benton PUD to better track the flow and demand of electricity distributed to customers.

"Smart grid is many things," Dunn said, "but one thing for sure is it's the convergence of IT infrastructure and electrical infrastructure."

Dunn expects the PUD's smart infrastructure to be installed at select sites in Benton PUD's coverage area throughout the next year. Software also will be installed so the public utility can gather and collect data from the digital readers.

Benton PUD has installed thousands of advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, meters, which also are called smart meters, throughout this year. The intelligent, digital readers and AMI readers should work together to give Benton PUD an accurate, almost real-time picture of energy use and distribution among customers.

The project will involve more than 112 megawatts of power, enough to serve 86,000 households.

-- Drew Foster: 585-7207; dfoster@tricityherald.com

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