Search Google Appliance

Background - "Planning the Smart Grid for Sustainable Communities" an Interactive Conference


The "Smart Grid" has caught the attention of political, business, and community leaders from the White House to Northwest communities.  It has been heralded by business leaders, renewable energy advocates, environmentalists, urban planners and designers, electric utilities, and many others . And for good reason.

Its champions say it will deploy many of the concepts, technologies, and models behind the Internet to transform the electrical grid from a centralized network controlled by utilities, to one that embraces distributed resources and encourages more customer control over the cost and environmental impact of the power they consume. They claim the Smart Grid will offer many benefits: encouraging the growth and enhancing the value of renewable options; supporting energy efficiency, demand response, and distributed generation efforts; helping owners of homes, businesses, and factories save money and better manage their use of electricity; improving transmission efficiency and reducing power outages, blackouts and brownouts; accelerating the adoption of new technologies; creating more family-wage jobs; and more.

On the other hand, the Smart Grid also has its share of critics who argue that it is more hype than hope. They insist the Smart Grid's "razzle-dazzle" claims tempt us to ignore more sensible and less costly strategies to make our communities more sustainable. Some also worry it may leave customers who are not technically savvy out in the cold.

The Smart Grid is a very hot topic right now, and there seems to be a conference or two somewhere in the country almost every week.  We decided to focus our attention primarily on an aspect of the Smart Grid that is less clearly understood and on which less consensus exists: will these technologies help us become more sustainable? If so, how?

The Northwest Has Become a Smart Grid Leader

The Pacific Northwest has emerged as a pioneer in the creation and testing of the Smart Grid concepts and technologies over the past decade.  Several recent developments have reinforced our region's leadership role.

First, the US Department of Energy selected four Oregon communities - Portland, Salem, Eugene and Corvallis - as test markets for the largest rollout of electric vehicles (EVs) and the associated charging infrastructure in US history. ECOtality, a leader in clean electric transportation and storage technologies, received nearly a $100 million grant to study electric vehicle use in these Oregon communities, the Seattle metro, area and a several more communities in California, Arizona and Tennessee. The goal of the EV Project is to deploy EV charging stations and analyze the use of the stations and the drivers of EVs to guide widespread adoption throughout the country. 

ECOtality, Portland General Electric, the State of Oregon, and others are now partnering with Nissan North America to deploy approximately 1,000 Nissan electric cars - called the "Leaf" - and install as many as 2,500 charging stations at Oregon homes and businesses. ECOtality asked PGE to participate as a partner specifically to help advance the understanding of EV usage patterns and their impact on the electric grid, and to encourage synergies with the region's Smart Grid initiatives. In addition, in April, Toyota selected Portland State University, along with PGE, the City of Portland, and other partners, as one of six groups nationally to demonstrate and evaluate that company's next-generation Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Soon thereafter, the US Department of Energy selected a Northwest team to conduct the nation's largest regional Smart Grid demonstration project. Led by Battelle, the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project will include key roles for the Bonneville Power Administration, 12 Northwest utilities, five major technology companies, and two universities with outreach to other academic centers, plus other partners.  After installing equipment and technology this year and next, the project team will gather data over the next three years from over 60,000-metered customers in 15 test sites that reflect the region's diverse terrain, weather and demographics.

According to Battelle, the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project will:

  • Validate new smart grid technologies and business models,
  • Provide two-way communication between distributed generation, storage, and demand assets and the existing grid infrastructure,
  • Quantify smart grid costs and benefits,
  • Advance standards for "interoperability" (the smooth, seamless integration of all elements of the electric system) and cyber security approaches, and
  • Ensure that these outcomes can be readily and flexibly adapted and widely replicated.

This was followed by news that a Pacific Northwest team, led by Centralia College's Center of Excellence for Energy Technology that includes Portland State University and other Northwest colleges and universities, was awarded a $5 million grant to establish a Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy to deliver smart grid training for utility workers in the Pacific Northwest. The same day, the Oregon Institute of Technology received a $2.5 million grant to support the expansion of its Renewable Energy Engineering Program, the first program of its kind in the country.

Just as our region was strengthening its leadership position in the development of the Smart Grid, it was also building on it impressive reputation as a world leader in green planning, design, and eco-districts.  Our region's sustainable development agenda is supported by scores of programs such as:

  • The City of Portland and Multnomah County's Climate Action Plan,
  • Metro's Centers Program that accelerates the build out of high-quality town centers along major transportation routes, and its Regional Transportation Plan,
  • Portland's "20 Minute Neighborhood" strategy to concentrate local services within walking distance to create mixed-use, vibrant and accessible neighborhoods,
  • The Portland Development Commission's Green Main Streets program to revitalize commercial district, and
  • The Oregon Sustainability Center, a unique synthesis of exceptional environmental performance with an integrated sustainability agenda, serving both as a technological model and as a hub for sustainable practices, policy, education, research and entrepreneurship.

One of the most encouraging developments in this area is the decision by the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) and the City of Portland, to launch the EcoDistricts Initiative as another step in the Portland region's broadening commitment to sustainability. The initiative includes a comprehensive strategy to accelerate sustainable neighborhood development, beginning with five pilot communities, including an EcoDistrict in the Portland State University area. According to PoSI's EcoDistricts Initiative Draft Framework, the ecodistrict performance vision includes healthy, equitable and vital communities; beyond carbon neutrality and healthy air quality; net-zero energy use supported by energy efficiency, renewables, demand-response, distributed generation and the Smart Grid; healthy, clean and affordable transportation options; a sustainable water balance between users, infrastructure and nature; the integration of built and natural environments for healthy urban ecosystems; and zero waste and optimized materials management.

The Portland area is not the only US community to embrace ecodistricts or the Smart Grid. One of the most exciting efforts comes from Austin, Texas.  Called the Pecan Street Project , it is an impressive community-wide collaboration that incorporates the Smart Grid but goes even further into the technology requirements, water management issues, job creation and economic development aspects of transforming the way energy is generated and delivered.  We are fortunate to have Jose Beceiro one of the leaders of the Pecan Street Project, talk about this approach during lunch.

Smart Grid Graduate Seminar and Case Studies

Clearly, the Smart Grid and sustainable planning and design can and should support each other. The question is how?  Students and faculty in the second year of our two-term interdisciplinary graduate course series, Planning the Smart Grid for Sustainable Communities, have been searching for answers. For the second consecutive year, this seminar has brought together graduate students from many academic disciplines throughout the university. It also attracted senior professionals from high tech companies, utilities and other energy companies, government agencies, small firms, and non-profits who took the class as part of their on-going professional development.  The seminar used a cross-disciplinary approach, deepening individual areas of expertise in the context of teamwork.

We freely admit we have a long way to go in our quest to understand and address the opportunities and challenges society must consider if the Smart Grid is to reach its full potential as a  a key enabler of sustainable development, but we are also excited by our progress. We agreed early on to move beyond the theory and focus our analysis on three "live" case studies in the Portland and Salem metro area. 

The first case study tests a utility-scale battery storage project as a Smart Grid option. It explores research issues associated with the development of a utility-scale battery inverter tied to a feeder. This project, called the Feeder Advanced Storage Transaction (FAST) Project, will be located in the Salem area, and Portland General Electric is the lead entity. In fact, it is one of the 15 test sites included in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. The project will test four key Smart Grid concepts: the value of a microgrid, the use of large battery storage to provide power at times of peak demand, frequency regulation, and complementing wind resources.

The student team, called the Ever-Readys, has been supported by a team of advisors that includes:

  • Mark Osborn, Portland General Electric's Distributed Resources Manager; and
  • Conrad Eustis, PSU Adjunct Professor and Portland General Electric's Director, Retail Technology Development.

The second case study explores how to integrate Smart Grid concepts and technologies into a proposed eco-district and a proposed neighborhood energy project: Portland State University Eco-District and the North Pearl Energy Project.  Both projects are in the early planning phases. They have many similarities and some important differences. For example, both are based on district energy systems (one water and the other steam); both are considering thermal storage tanks (or vaults) for hot or cold water or steam storage, as well as electric boilers for winter and extra chiller equipment for summer to take advantage additional electricity that might be available from excess wind generation; and both are exploring the possibility of a combined heat and power component.  The projects also have important differences that will likely lead to different approaches, configurations, and business cases.

The student team, called the Sludgehammers, has been supported by a team of advisors that includes:

  • Fletcher Beaudoin, PSU's Sustainability Planner;
  • Diane Broad, Director and Senior Consultant, Ecofys-US;
  • Ken Dragoon, Technical Director, Renewable Northwest Project;
  • Mark Gregory, PSU's Associate Vice President for Finance & Administration;
  • Mike Hoffman, Senior Energy Analyst, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; and
  • John Sorenson, Executive Director, N2e.

The third case study explores plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles in the context of Smart Grid value propositions and focuses specifically on the Portland metro area. It examines plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles for their multiple benefits to both the grid and our regional transportation system, and explores such key topics as vehicle-to-grid transactions. It leverages the partnerships among ECOtality, Portland General Electric, Portland State University, the State of Oregon, City of Portland, Nissan, and Toyota discussed above. 

The student team, called the Green Wheels, has been supported by team of advisors that includes:

  • Joe Barra, Portland General Electric's Director of Customer Energy Resources;
  • George Beard, Program Director, PSU's Executive Leadership Institute's Summer Internship Program and Founder of GovernmentWise consulting firm;
  • John McArthur, Sustainable Transportation Program Manager with the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, (OTREC); and
  • John Thornton, President and Principal Consultant, CleanFuture.

In addition to these technical advisors, the students and faculty have benefited greatly by guest presentations from the following regional experts:

  • Lisa Adatto, Oregon Director, Climate Solutions
  • Joe Barra, Director of Customer Energy Resources, Portland General Electric
  • Fletcher Beaudoin, Sustainability Planner, PSU
  • Clark Brockman, Director of Sustainable Resources, SERA Architects
  • Wayne Embry, Founder and Managing Partner, Reference Capital Managemen
  • Hannah Friedman, Technical Research Director, Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.
  • Mark Fuji, Capital Construction Project Manager, PSU
  • Mark Gregory, Associate Vice President for Finance & Administration, PSU
  • Lee Hall, Smart Grid Program Manager, Bonneville Power Administration
  • Steve Hawke, Senior Vice President for Customer Service and Delivery, Portland General Electric
  • Roy Hemmingway, Energy Consultant and former Chair, Oregon Public Utilities Commission
  • Bob Jenks, Executive Director, Citizens Utility Board of Oregon
  • Steve Jennings, Chief Marketing Officer, BPL Global
  • Michael Jung, Policy Director, Silver Springs Network
  • Bobby Kandaswamy, Director, Intel Capital
  • Patrick Keegan, Vice President, Residential Utility Solutions, Ecos Consulting, Inc.
  • Dmitry Kosterev, Electrical Engineer, BPA Transmission Planning; Chair, Modeling and Validation Work Group, and Chair, Planning Implementation Task Team, North American SynchroPhasor Initiative
  • Pamela Lesh, President and Principal Consultant, Graceful Systems LLC
  • Loren Lutzenhiser, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, PSU
  • James Mater, Co-Founder and Director, Quality Logic, Inc., and Founder, The Oregon Smart Grid Start Up Project
  • Mark Osborn, Distributed Resources Manager, Portland General Electric
  • Thomas Puttman, PE, AICP, LEED AP, Sustainable Infrastructure Lead, David Evans and Associates
  • Lisa Schwartz, Senior Associate, Regulatory Assistance Project
  • John Sorenson, Executive Director, N2E
  • John Stafford, Vice President Conservation Solutions, Sensus

The students and faculty thank each advisor and guest presenter for their generous gift of time and expertise. We also thank our generous conference co-sponsors.


Home | Register Now | Schedule | Keynote Speakers | Background | Sponsors