After years of testing and research, the results of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project are in. For individual utilities that participated in the research project, like Idaho Falls Power, the results were a mixed bag.
One of the most promising results from the Smart Grid research was voltage management control. “Typically we haven’t had good feedback on the amount of voltage a customer is getting at the end of a line,” said Jackie Flowers. “Now we have better visibility (at the end of the line) so with the voltage feeder we were better able to see how much they’re getting and we can lower the voltage in a line.” By lowering the voltage, the city can then save money or save the excess capacity when it’s really needed.
Flowers says maximizing the use of those systems is a key part of their capital investment plans in the future. “We won’t have to be building power plants to meet that peak load. We won’t have to be building and expanding capacity in the distribution network. What we can do instead is just extract more capacity in the existing system,” said Flowers.
Other benefits for the smart power grid include faster response time if something goes wrong. “For example if a squirrel causes a power outage at your house,” said Chase Morgan, an electrical dispatcher for Idaho Falls Power. “We’ll get a notification on our computer that power has been lost at this residence, and it gives us a chance to dispatch our trouble crew faster quicker and easier.”
Idaho Falls Power also had several hundred consumers voluntarily hooked up smart meters, smart thermostats, and other technologies to help with the test. Flowers says for the most part, consumers responded positively to the research and initial results show that consumers can save money with the new technologies. “By and large they all felt it was very positive. They encouraged us to try and continue to pursue new technology and offerings for them.”
There were a few problems with the Smart Grid system, and most dealt with new prototype technologies malfunctioning. “That was the one thing that was consistent about the test, whether it was on the distribution side or the customer side,” said Flowers.
Even with the glitches, Idaho Falls Power plans on investing in several of the technologies in the coming years saying they’ll save thousands of dollars through increase efficiency.