$178 Million Smart Grid Project Launches In Northwest

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of EarthFix. Author credit goes to Ashley Ahearn.

The University of Washington got its launch last Wednesday as the country’s biggest testing ground for smart grid technology.

Smart grid is a catch-all term for something power providers are still trying to figure out — namely: how do you use modern technology, like the Internet, to manage how much power is flowing through the grid at any given time?

If power suppliers could do that they could better adapt to things like surges in power demand – say during a heat wave for example, or surges in power supply – like during a big rush of hydropower after a spring snowmelt.

Smart Grid

a rendering of the smart grid (image credit Bonneville Power Administration)

For UW students, faculty and staff, the test project means they’ll have 200 smart meters. These meters will help them track in real-time the energy they’re consuming to heat and cool classrooms and power computers and TVs in their dorm rooms.

The University of Washington has put $10 million into the partnership.

Jamie Rowe is part of a team of graduate students studying the ways real-time energy monitoring affects how much electricity people use.

A device about the size of a bedside radio sat on the table in front of her. It was connected to several lamps in the crowded room.

“So this is the energy hub and you can see on this device each appliance and how much energy it’s using and the costs associated with that,” Rowe said.

And all this technology is web based. That’s a boon for the forgetful among us.

“So if you leave your home and you forget to turn something on or off you can do this remotely so this lamp should go off in a second. There we go,” Rowe said.

Rowe hit a button on her smart phone and a red lamp on the other side of the room turns off.

Just like that. The goal of the smart grid project is to make managing everyone’s power easier.

The launch event was a big enough deal to attract both of Washington’s U.S. senators.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, who’s running for reelection, called the smart grid the “operating system for electricity in the 21st century.”

The UW demonstration project is part of a $178 million project, financed in part with federal stimulus money. Smart grid components will roll out in five states including Washington, Idaho and Oregon. It’s a partnership between governmental agencies, researchers, private companies and 11 utilities around the region.

The smart grid project will collect data about energy use and also help consumers manage their use of electricity.

Cantwell says the project will create 1,500 jobs, with benefits that go beyond employment.

“All of these people working from training programs to workers on the line to substation mechanics are all part of a system upgrade that’s going to help us in the future,” she said.

EarthFix is an innovative public media partnership of Pacific Northwest stations, creating media across multiple platforms, helping citizens examine environmental issues unfolding in their own backyards and to explore how local actions intersect with national issues.