7th Northwest Power Plan – Conservation Leads the Charge and DR Joins the Mix

By: Bryce Yonker, Smart Grid NW

The NW Power and Conservation Council recently published its approved 7th Power Plan, the purpose of which is to ensure that the region maintains a reliable and economical power supply. The leading headline of the plan is similar to previous editions which recommended significant levels of energy efficiency to meet the region’s needs.  It is reassuring to see the NW remain committed to leveraging low cost conservation resources that are becoming increasingly automated and intelligent.

For the first time ever the plan recommends a build out of demand response (DR) resources to limit peak capacity needs, something we supported in our comments on the plan. We at Smart Grid Northwest are excited to see how the region can spread its wings by integrating various DR resources. We are committed to providing forums and educational venues to help regional stakeholders better understand the benefits and impacts of DR technologies and ways to successfully implement them. The team at Smart Grid NW is currently planning our Annual Meeting (likely to be held in the early fall) to include a full day symposium on DR, with a focus on sharing lessons learned, case studies, and examples of leading demand response solutions and deployments across the country.

We are already seeing DR related activities picking up in the region, with PGE rolling out its program with Nest to leverage residential heating flexibility to better manage their winter peaks. BPA and Energy Northwest are also working on additional DR programs for residential, C&I, and expanding into irrigation DR programs like Idaho Power has for years.

Moving on to the second area we commented on in the Draft Plan – Smart Grid Technologies – the Plan remained almost completely silent.  We appreciate the Plan’s recommendation for further research in various smart grid solutions, but many of these technologies are already providing benefits in other regions of the US and the rest of the world. The NW needs to move more aggressively, not only into reviewing smart grid related solutions for research, but also deploying them for system benefits. At Smart Grid NW we agree with the Council that there are future benefits that these solutions can provide, but we also believe there are many areas that these solutions can currently help our energy system, such as:

  • Integrating new energy resources such as distributed renewables, dispatchable energy storage, automated demand response, transactive energy, smart homes/buildings, and other emerging energy solutions.
  • Empowering consumers to make wise and economical decisions with easy-to-access, timely, and accurate energy information.
  • Ensuring energy affordability as energy supply and demand are balanced more dynamically and optimally with near real-time data.
  • Establishing a more resilient, reliable, efficient, and sustainable energy system in which outages are fixed more rapidly, peak demand is abated, efficiency programs are optimized, and resources are used more effectively.

We understand that the Council’s role has focused analysis on the least-cost, least-risk regional energy generation mix. However, as we stated in our comments on the Draft Plan, the original charter of the Council was to provide planning to “assure the region of a safe, reliable, and economical power system.” We remain interested to see how the Council can expand its analysis to more completely fulfill this charter by including grid modernization solutions that can help the region continue to have a low-cost, reliable and efficient energy system.

We applaud the Council for the creation of the Demand Response Advisory Committee to help identify DR strategies and get a better sense of the regional potential. We are especially pleased to see the inclusion within the charter to examine technologies that enable DR or provide similar benefits by utilizing distributed energy resources, transactive energy, and other smart grid solutions.

Smart Grid Northwest was pleased to see the final Plan include analysis on the impact of distributed resources (the third area in our filed comments), but this analysis could certainly go further. The use of the PV Watts NREL tool and the forecasts of DG solar potential (upwards of 1.4 GW) were an excellent starting point. The energy landscape across the country is undergoing significant changes as distributed resources – from rooftop solar, increasingly installed with battery energy storage systems, to connected and responsive appliances and buildings – are rapidly increasing in their deployments.

The Council’s assertion that distributed resources are essentially a factor influencing negative load growth is something that we would like to see reconsidered. Smart Grid NW looks forward to working with the Council and other regional stakeholders to get a better understanding of the anticipated trends and development levels of these resources in the mid-term, and evaluating what kind of an impact they may have on regional energy systems.

Finally, as those of you who follow us know, we are very engaged in the topic of transactive energy. While no energy marketplace in the US, including the NW, is yet structured to have system operators sending value (or price) signals to various energy resources so they can respond accordingly, we believe a transactive energy future falls well within the 20 year horizon of the Council’s Plan. We are part of the drive for continued developments in this area, including those that will be discussed at our upcoming Transactive Energy Systems Conference in May, to better understand what a transactive energy future will look like in the region.

Smart Grid NW would like to again express its appreciation to the Council for their tireless work on putting together the regional energy plan. The NW is unique in the country in having a planning function to look at a longer-term horizon that helps shape the regional energy landscape that benefits all stakeholders – grid operators, consumers, energy providers, and others.

Since the Draft Plan was released, the energy landscape has continued to be very dynamic. Congress passed the 5 year extensions for renewable energy tax credits, the Supreme Court put a stay on the Clean Power Plan, and Oregon passed the 50% RPS, No-Coal bill. The months and years ahead certainly hold many more shifts to the landscape that the Council could not anticipate, but a few things seems sure to us: our energy system will become increasingly distributed as deeper and wider bodies of information empower grid operators and consumers, and as automated intelligence grows in ubiquity. Here at Smart Grid Northwest we stand ready to engage in grid modernization efforts so that the reliable, low cost, and clean energy we have enjoyed for the last century in the NW can continue to help our economies thrive.

Stephan Williams