Opportunity Abounds as Washington Builds the Modern Electricity Grid
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shouldered some of the costs of initial battery storage and grid modernization projects at Washington utilities through the Clean Energy Fund (CEF), which has allocated $76 million to a variety of clean energy and efficiency capital projects in the last four years, including Horn Rapids.
The CEF built on momentum already rolling in the Northwest, which has a history of electricity system innovation, as well as cheap, clean hydroelectric power that has been “turning our darkness to dawn”—in the immortal words of Woody Guthrie—for eight decades, thanks to massive federal power projects such as the Grand Coulee Dam. (The federal Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power from dams and operates the majority of the region’s electricity transmission system, marks its 80th anniversary later this month.)
“Our ridiculously large hydro-backed grid has always made us an interesting electricity place,” says Brian Young, clean technology sector lead at the Washington Department of Commerce, which oversees the CEF.
The CEF, a signature initiative of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, has helped Snohomish Public Utilities District (SnoPUD) in Everett, WA, install battery systems and locally developed software to integrate and control them. It supported a storage project by Avista Utilities at a substation in Pullman, WA. Puget Sound Energy, too, received funding to install a battery that’s helping keep the lights on in the small mountain town of Glacier, WA.
“Utilities were really craving that need to understand battery storage and how it fits into our grid and how they operate,” Young says.
In addition to money focused on utility grid modernization, the CEF has provided early research and development funding to companies working on a broad sweep of clean energy technologies, and revolving grant funds to nonprofit lenders for energy efficiency upgrades.
(The CEF was set for about $40 million in additional funding for the coming two years, but that is on hold for now because the Washington Legislature failed to pass a capital budget.)
Newer companies such as UniEnergy Technologies (UET), which is commercializing technology from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) to build utility-scale batteries that fit inside shipping containers, have benefited from these early state-supported deployments, creating a track record upon which they can sell their wares to utilities and large commercial customers around the world.
“The Pullman project for Avista was UET’s first sale in the U.S.,” says Russ Weed, UET’s vice president of business development and marketing, via e-mail. The battery it provided to SnoPUD was the largest of its kind in the world, “further accelerating UET’s commercial traction,” Weed adds. “Now UET is up to 170 megawatt hours of systems deployed, contracted, or awarded.”
Before the CEF, there was another major regional funding source for innovation on the electricity grid.
The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, a five-year, $178 million region-wide effort—the largest of 16 such projects backed by the Department of Energy in the wake of the Great Recession—deployed and tested new infrastructure including smart meters and transformers, energy storage systems, controllable thermostats, and perhaps most importantly, a “transactive control” signal, which would serve as the beating heart of a modern grid. The signal communicates the price of power at a given time and place on the grid, telling a business to turn off its HVAC system if power prices are spiking, or a utility to charge up its battery when electricity is cheap.
The demonstration project “laid a base for us, and the state, through the Clean Energy Fund, has built some amazing things on top of that base,” Schwartz says.
The Horn Rapids Solar, Storage, and Training Project, planned for a 20 acre parcel just down the road from PNNL, began … Next Page »