Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Portland GE plans smart grid test bed

Steve Rogerson
October 17, 2018

Portland General Electric (PGE) plans to build a smart grid test bed that will integrate smart grid technology on a scale never before attempted in the USA. Slated to begin next year, the project aims to accelerate PGE's vision for a clean energy future through partnering with its customers to decarbonise the grid. 

PGE is building and testing three smart grids within its service area that will enable more than 20,000 users to take advantage of special demand-response signals and incentives for using smart-home technologies, giving them greater energy efficiency opportunities and increased control over their energy use and carbon footprint. The entire service area will benefit as PGE integrates even more renewable energy resources into its power supply without compromising grid safety, security and reliability. 

"PGE is committed to delivering a clean energy future, and we're leaning in to our long history of industry leadership to get there," said Maria Pope, PGE president and CEO. "Together with customers we're making the future a reality with innovative projects like our smart grid test bed. This first-of-its-kind project will leapfrog over other smart grid efforts, enabling PGE to gain and share learnings that will aid the entire industry."

PGE aims to make this a seamless experience for its customers by helping them automate their smart devices, such as thermostats, water heaters, electric vehicle chargers and batteries, to work in concert with the utility as it operates the grid. During times when demand for electricity is especially high in the region, customers will be able to decide on an event-by-event basis if they want to participate in reducing their overall energy consumption. 

To accomplish this, PGE will leverage communications capabilities and distribution system upgrades in three Oregon cities - Hillsboro, Portland and Milwaukie. Three feeders and substations in these cities will also be equipped with other smart grid technologies such as new remote controls that increase system reliability and enhanced safety and cyber security.

"The PGE smart grid test bed represents a leap forward in the relationship between customers and their energy providers," said Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and CEO of Grid Policy. "By providing customers with more control over their energy consumption and carbon footprint with the latest in control technology, PGE is on a path to building a model that energy providers everywhere can learn from and replicate." 
The test bed will accelerate the development of distributed resources, which include customer-hosted renewables such as rooftop solar; flexible resources such as batteries, thermostats and water heaters; and electric vehicle charging. The two-and-a-half-year project aims to achieve at least 66 per cent participation by eligible customers, an ambitious goal considering typical uptake of demand-response programmes nationally is less than seven per cent.

"PGE's leadership in reducing energy consumption aligns perfectly with our community's sustainability goals,” said Steve Callaway, mayor of Hillsboro. “This visionary project at the Roseway substation serving the South Hillsboro neighbourhood will also aid our smart city strategy by leveraging innovation and technology for our daily lives. Residents and businesses can make the most of smart thermostats, water heaters and appliances, rooftop solar energy generation, electric vehicles and energy storage." 

The project was conceived and is being overseen by energy regulators in Oregon. To accelerate the concept, PGE developed the pilot with guidance from the Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the USA's top sustainability consultants. The project is being steered by an advisory committee of local and national subject matter experts from the public and private sectors. 

"Given the recent UN report, the urgency of rolling out cutting-edge technology that aims for a carbon free near-future is critical,” said Mark Gamba, mayor of Milwaukie. “Milwaukie looks forward to exploring how this technology not only moves us towards our goal of being a net zero city by 2040, but creates resiliency in the face of more and more violent storms. We are thrilled with the visionary attitude that our partner PGE has embraced."

Ted Wheeler, mayor of Portland, added: "Partnership and collaboration with Portland General Electric is a critical part of our efforts to combat climate change and to make our electricity grid and neighbourhoods more resilient, liveable and efficient. The city of Portland is excited to learn about smart grid implementation alongside PGE in this important pilot programme."

Portland General Electric is an integrated energy company based in Portland, Oregon, serving about 883,000 customers in 51 cities. It has approximately 2900 employees across the state.