Transforming the U.S. power grid

Automating electricity transfer across the state based on need

To harness renewable resources and mitigate power outages, America needs to evolve the “Smart Grid,” the computer-automated network that distributes electricity nationwide. WSU’s Energy System Innovation Center is answering the challenge.

The Center is part of the first regional effort to collect renewable energy and share it among buildings across the state. Development of energy-sharing capability will make power distribution more flexible and cost effective.

Smart distribution of electricity

The regional initiative demonstrates “transactive technology,” which uses a network of sensors, battery systems, and software to automatically adjust energy loads. Decisions to adjust are based on pre-determined criteria such as energy prices, essential services, comfort levels, time of day, electricity available, and more.

WSU’s collaborators in the project include Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and University of Washington (UW). The project will pilot transactive energy management across their three campus locations. For example, if the equipment that turns energy into electricity for UW were to become overloaded, Seattle City Light could signal UW to reduce its power consumption momentarily.

Storing renewably generated energy for use in outages

Transactive technology also optimizes use of renewable energy sources. WSU will integrate solar panels into Pullman’s “Smart City” test bed, a living laboratory for automating electricity distribution. The solar panels will also become part of WSU’s microgrid system, a locally based, electricity producing power grid that can communicate with the power company.

The newly added solar panels will communicate automatically with generators at WSU, as well as with a unique, one megawatt energy storage battery in Pullman. The campus system will communicate automatically with electric meters at both PNNL and UW campuses. Researchers aim to store solar energy in the battery, so that it can be put to use automatically in the event of a power outage at any of the three campuses.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Washington State Department of Commerce are supporting the demonstration project.