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Portland General Electric Sets Bold Energy Goals With Smart Grid Test Bed

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Like many power utilities, Portland General Electric (PGE) recognizes that customers want to be more proactive in controlling energy sources, impacting energy costs, and shaping a clean energy future. To help customers meet these goals, and to learn how to better partner with them, PGE has launched a flexible smart grid infrastructure initiative, beginning with a multi-year learning program known as the Smart Grid Test Bed.

Bold Energy Goals

PGE has its own energy goals, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% by 2050. In 2016, the company collaborated with environmental groups and customer advocates to pass one of the most progressive clean energy laws in the nation. According to PGE Communications Executive Melanie Erdmann, “The resulting landmark legislation — the Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan — sets a target of 50% renewable energy by 2040 and transitions Oregon off coal-fired electricity by 2035. As a result, Oregon’s electricity sector will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and PGE will be 70 percent carbon-free by 2040.”

PGE also leads the nation with more than 200,000 customers participating in voluntary renewable power programs, more than 10,000 customers as early adopters of electric vehicles (EVs), and several cities in its service area with resolutions to move to 100% clean and renewable energy. The Test Bed will further these trends by helping to “demonstrate the benefits of adopting smart grid technologies at an unprecedented scale,” according to PGE.

The Test Bed, available in three distinct neighborhoods, gives residential and business customers more control over energy distribution while enabling PGE to rethink the technologies, programs, and products it uses to keep energy reliable and affordable. Through the program, PGE hopes to acquire 6 MW of direct response capacity through a 66% residential participation rate and a 40% commercial participation rate.

Peak Time Rebates

Through the Test Bed program, more than 20,000 customers within participating neighborhoods have been auto-enrolled in PGE’s Peak Time Rebates program. Enrollees can decide on an event-by-event basis whether to participate by reducing or shifting their energy consumption. Customers receive notifications of a coming event and determine whether to adjust their thermostat by a few degrees or put off operating appliances until after the peak event. When they do participate, they see a rebate on their next bill. Customers with smart thermostats have the option of allowing PGE to make adjustments automatically. In addition to saving customers money, the program saves PGE from turning on less efficient power plants (or building a new one) to meet peak demand.

Two-way Power Flow

Another component of this project allows customers to contribute energy to PGE’s power supply. Erdmann explains, “Customers can leverage things like personal water heaters, EV chargers, and battery storage to give energy back, enabling the two-way power flow made possible by the smart grid. When the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining to provide renewable energy, customers can contribute stored energy in previously charged batteries. We reward customers for giving that battery energy back to the grid.”

Updated Infrastructure

To handle the additional system demands based on the components mentioned above, the Test Bed project also includes updated infrastructure. Erdmann explains, “The technology installed on the substations and feeders located in the Test Bed includes things like circuit breaker upgrades and added switchgear to the substations to increase resiliency. We will also deploy reclosers on the feeders to enable distribution automation.” These upgrades will enable the system to respond to new demands safely and reliably; they’ll also help PGE determine how to deploy such programs on a larger scale.

Virtual Power Plant

Starting with this pilot program, PGE hopes ultimately to build a “virtual power plant” powered more by customer behavior and customer-controlled devices and less by traditional power generation. “For example,” says Erdmann, “in July we conducted our first Peak Time Rebate event, and we were able to decrease energy use during the event by more than 6 MW. For context, 1 MW of power serves approximately 800 homes. In essence, we’ve created a virtual power plant of 6 MW.” This model will contribute to reversing climate change, empowering communities, and saving customers money.

The current phase of the Smart Grid Test Bed, focused on demand response, is expected to last 2.5 years. Beyond that, says Erdmann, “This is a multi-year learning program and an opportunity to accelerate our path to a clean energy future. We have plans for a second phase focused on distributed energy resources. With a successful pilot, we’ll have access to a new demand-side resource capable of replacing the need for a new power plant. Additionally, we’ll learn how to increase flexible loads that are essential to decarbonizing the grid while increasing renewable energy usage without compromising the grid’s safety, reliability or resilience.”

How is your utility using smart grid technologies? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 3, 2019 1:43 pm GMT

Portland seems like a great starting point for an initiative like this, given how energy conscious the customers there seem to be compared with the average. I know I'd love to get my hadns on that type of test as a consumer!

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Sep 3, 2019 9:21 pm GMT

Yes, we can thank early adopters for working through the challenges and showing other communities the way forward. 

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