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Nov 15

Pioneering the Way for True Smart Grid Technologies

Nearly all of us can recall a time when we have lost power and lights – with no sure way of knowing when they might come back on.

Around the globe such scenarios are not uncommon, but such power disruptions soon may be a thing of the past.  Pioneers in the field of energy storage and distribution have been looking at new and innovative ways to reliably store power from renewable sources. Modern leaders at the forefront of this work have recently created a one of a kind and truly innovative “smart grid” in Oregon’s capitol city of Salem at the Smart Power Center. The brand new Smart Power Center is the first large-scale operation of it’s kind to develop long term, reliable methods of renewable energy power storage, a problem that has been at the center of the green energy movement since its start.

The Salem Smart Power Center is the result of a partnership between the federal Department of Energy and Portland General Electric Company, which serves hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Built at a cost of $23 million, the Smart Power Center started operations in June as a relatively small-scale experiment, involving only 500 homes and businesses at the moment. Keep a close eye on it, however – because it may very well represent the future of how electrical power is delivered to ratepayers reliably and consistently – even when Mother Nature is doing her level best to bring down the grid.

The Salem Smart Power Center is a five megawatt green energy storage facility that utilizes cutting-edge lithium-ion battery technology. This method of storing renewable energy will allow the five hundred participants to tap into electrical reserves during blackouts and power outages. Besides reliability, there are economic upsides as well. By employing what is known as “transactive control” in order to balance supply and demand more effectively, the local utility will be able to purchase and store electrical energy during times that prices are lower – instead of having to rely on the vagaries of an unstable market during times of crisis when energy costs can skyrocket.

There’s more to the equation. While a great deal of electrical energy in the Pacific Northwest is generated by hydro-turbines, taking advantage of the regions many rivers, participants in the project are looking to other, greener sources as well. One participant is Salem-based Kettle Brands, maker of the popular Kettle Chips. The company is tying its own 616-panel solar array into the Smart Power Center as part of an effort to bring alternative energy sources, including wind and solar into the picture.

Of course, as Oregon Senator Ron Widen, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, says, “A smart grid isn’t exactly smart if it can’t connect power generators and distributors and users…installing smart meters hither and yon isn’t going to do much for our grid if consumers and power producers can’t access and then utilize real time information data to make smart choice.”  Therefore, in addition to providing more reliable sources of electrical energy, the Salem Smart Power Center is employing information technology and analyzing data in order to determine how energy is used, how this relates to the amounts being generated and made available at any given time – and most importantly, how best to optimize and balance consumption and production.

The current power grid in the U.S. was designed during the final decade of the 19th Century, but despite regular upgrades and expansions over the past 100 years, it has been stretched almost beyond capacity – so it is small wonder that brownouts and blackouts don’t happen more often than they already do. With the Salem Smart Power Center leading the way, that antiquated electric grid will soon be transformed into a modern 21st Century grid that can serve our needs reliably and economically for decades to come.

 

About the Author:

Dominic Giarratano – as the executive producer of ElectricTv, an online video news magazine which highlights the highly technical construction work of NECA-affiliated contractors and IBEW electricians and technicians, Dominic is responsible for all aspects of the production; from concept to completion.

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