Northwest Gets Smart-Grid Funding, Northeast Loses Out

by | Dec 2, 2009

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smartgriddiagramSeveral Northwestern states are the beneficiaries of the U.S. Department of Energy’s $620 million in funding for smart-grid demonstration projects announced in November. The losers: two National Grid projects in the Northeast.

The $178-million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project (PDF) was one of 16 regional smart-grid demonstration awards selected by the DOE, reports the Idaho Business Review.

The Northwest team, comprised of energy providers, utilities, vendors and research organizations, will conduct a regional smart-grid demonstration project designed to expand the existing electric infrastructure and test new smart-grid devices, software and analytical tools with up to 60,000 customers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, according to the Idaho newspaper. The project will be managed by Battelle.

The 112-megawatt project will include the installation of equipment and technology in 2010 and 2011 at 15 test sites with varying terrain, weather and demographics, reports the Idaho Business Review.

The DOE will provide half the funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with the project’s participants providing the remaining funds, according to the newspaper.

On the other coast, National Grid lost out on $200 million in stimulus finding it was seeking for smart-grid projects including advanced meters and plug-in electric cars in New York and New England, reports Trading Markets (Albany Times Union via COMTEX).

However, UK-based National Grid said it wasn’t giving up on its smart-grid demonstration project in upstate New York, which is expected to cost $250 million, though the utility is likely to scale-down the pilot project, according to the Albany Times Union.

Half of the funding would have come from the DOE but National Grid wasn’t selected for part of the $3.4 billion in smart-grid funding for 100 projects announced in October, reports the newspaper. It’s unclear how National Grid plans to pay for the project.

Another project National Grid is working on with Premium Power Corp. to test large utility-scale batteries in Massachusetts and Syracuse received $7.3 million in stimulus funding, according to the article.

At a recent panel conference, smart-grid companies and government officials said the country’s broadband infrastructure is closely tied to the smart grid, adding connectivity at different points along the grid, reports the CNET Green Tech blog.

Smart-grid advocates said adding digital technologies to the existing system will allow for more efficient energy, increased reliability as well as enable grid operators to use more solar and wind power, therefore, they are calling for wider broadband coverage to open up more services to a wider group of consumers, according to CNET.

Currently, smart-grid companies are relying on home broadband connections to send data from smart meters between customers and utilities, though products are being designed so they can work with an Internet connection, reports CNET.

Standards and interoperability also have to be discussed at the government level. Smart-grid standards are underway by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, covering everything from cyber security to in-home communication protocols, reports CNET.

For more information about the smart grid, the GridWise Alliance released two reports aimed at smart-grid decision makers. The “Handbook for Assessing Smart Grid Projects” (PDF), authored by KEMA with input from GridWise Alliance members and the Edison Electric Institute, is a guidebook for measuring smart-grid project investments.

The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) report, “What is Missing in our Fundamental Knowledge of Smart Grid Implementation?” (PDF) identifies key questions that still need to be answered as the nation upgrades its electric infrastructure.

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