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Breakthroughs Magazine

At a Glance

"Smart" energy devices + real-time pricing = increased options for consumers

About 200 volunteers in the Pacific Northwest are testing equipment that is expected to make the power grid more reliable while offsetting huge investments in new transmission and distribution equipment.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory recently launched the Pacific Northwest GridWise™ Testbed Demonstration, a regional initiative to test and speed adoption of new smart grid technologies that can make the power grid more resilient and efficient.

Homeowners can use energy use and cost information to adjust their consumption.

A new combination of devices, software and advanced analytical tools will give homeowners more information about their energy use and cost. Researchers want to know if this will modify homeowners' behaviors.

Approximately 100 homes receive real-time price information through a broadband Internet connection and automated equipment that adjusts energy use based on price. In addition, some customers have computer chips embedded in their dryers and water heaters that can sense when the power transmission system is under stress and automatically turn off certain functions briefly until the grid can be stabilized by power operators.

"The technologies we're testing will turn today's appliances, which are as dumb as stones with regard to the power grid, into full partners in grid operations," said Rob Pratt, PNNL's GridWise™ program manager.

In the pricing study, automated controls adjust appliances and thermostats based on predetermined instructions from homeowners. The volunteers can choose to curtail or reduce energy use when prices are higher. At any point, homeowners can override even their preprogrammed preferences to achieve maximum comfort and convenience.

In the smart appliance portion of the study, a computer chip developed by PNNL is being installed in 150 Sears Kenmore dryers produced by Whirlpool Corporation.

The Grid Friendly™ Appliance Controller chip could help prevent widespread power outages by briefly turning off certain parts of an appliance when it senses instability in the grid. On a large scale, this instant reduction in energy load could serve as a shock absorber for the grid by giving grid operators time to bring new power generation resources on-line to stabilize the grid.

The study is part of the Pacific Northwest GridWise Testbed Demonstration, a project funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy. Northwest utilities, appliance manufacturers and technology companies also are supporting this effort.


PNNL Laboratory Director Len Peters along with Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (left) and Senator Maria Cantwell (right) at the groundbreaking for the Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory.

WSU and PNNL break ground on new facility

Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory broke ground April 13, 2006, on the Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory. The BSEL is a $24-million joint effort between WSU and PNNL. Located on the WSU Tri-Cities campus, researchers will use the laboratory to develop processes for converting low-value agricultural byproducts and residues into value-added chemicals for products like plastics, solvents, fibers, pharmaceuticals and fuel additives.

The joint research done at the BSEL could play a significant role in developing a biobased products and fuels industry for Washington and the Northwest. The facility also will provide much needed classrooms and laboratories for science education at WSU Tri-Cities.

Washington Governor, Chris Gregoire said, "The BSEL is the wisest investment we can make for the future of the Tri-Cities and for the entire state."

The BSEL will provide a unique opportunity for researchers and faculty to collaborate on projects that could reduce our nation's dependence on imported oil and develop and deploy clean, efficient energy technologies.

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