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Collaborating for a Modern Grid

Across the nation, energy providers, transmission operators, technology developers and many others in the electric utility industry are engaged in grid modernization.

Across the nation, energy providers, transmission operators, technology developers and many others in the electric utility industry are engaged in grid modernization. For the Bonneville Power Administration, one of four power marketing agencies under the Department of Energy, and our industry partners in the Northwest, the path toward a modern grid involves an exceptional level of alignment and collaboration.

It starts with investments in the region’s core transmission and power assets, which we coordinate with our federal partners at the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An example of this is unfolding at the Corps’ Chief Joseph Dam in Eastern Washington, the second-largest hydropower plant in the nation. BPA is funding a turbine replacement project that will increase the dam's efficiency by about 6 percent, generating more power from the same amount of water flow.

Investments like this will benefit Northwest consumers for decades into the future, especially given the region’s reliance on its hydropower fleet for long-term load service and variable energy resource integration. 


Elliot Mainzer


Consumers in the Northwest are also benefiting from regional efforts to advance technology. The five-year Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, the largest of its kind in the nation, involved 11 utilities, two universities, six infrastructure partners and 60,000 metered customers across five states. The project deployed $80 million in new smart grid technologies throughout the region and collectively moved us closer to a more intelligent and dynamic grid.

And through BPA’s Technology Innovation program, we are collaborating with utilities, nonprofits, research organizations, technology developers and universities around the world to deliver millions of dollars of savings through avoided costs, operational improvements and increased efficiencies.

One product of our R&D investments is the world’s most sophisticated synchrophasor program, which provides a super high-resolution view of system conditions. High-performance servers in BPA’s synchrophasor lab are processing 200,000 power system measurements per second. The next step is to use those measurements in a wide-area response-based control scheme that will assess the system and take necessary actions at substations within a split second of a grid disturbance.

Market initiatives are also underway in the Northwest. Building on a 70-year legacy of improving regional coordination, the Northwest Power Pool, a committee made up of members from a diverse group of electric utilities, recently proposed a set of tools to address the most pressing operational and commercial challenges facing the Northwest. 

The portfolio is anchored by two programs. A Regulation Reserve Sharing Group will allow utilities to share a single area control error, which today is managed individually by each balancing authority. Sharing a single area control error across the 14 participating balancing authorities would leverage the diversity in individual system errors and potentially achieve significant cost savings in the form of lower overall reserve requirements.

A centrally cleared energy dispatch market would improve on the existing 15-minute bilateral market by automating the process, removing many of the barriers to liquidity while leveraging existing commercial infrastructure.

This initiative has the potential to provide significant benefits while preserving local decision-making and preserving the reliability – and affordability – of the region’s power system. The design of this framework will also allow for future enhancements as the region identifies opportunities for additional benefits. 

Collaboration spurs innovation. It’s an enduring principle that will continue to guide BPA, its utility customers and many partners as we pursue ways to enhance and improve the reliability and flexibility of the Northwest power system for generations to come.

Elliot Mainzer is Bonneville Power Administration administrator.

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