BlogSpot by Nik Foster: The Modernization of Grids: US vs EU

The United States and Europe share several communalities on their road to a smarter grid. Both continents need better grid modeling to help with insights into how the millions of smart devices, smart loads and distributed renewable generation will affect the grid. And both are preparing their grid for supporting renewable energy targets and a significant growth in electric mobility. While the United States does not have structured smart grid deployment milestones like those formulated by the European Commission, there are regions whose smart grid roll-out have become models for grid modernization and successful cooperation. One of these regions is the Pacific Northwest. They have initiatiated a new way of smart grid research and deployment that deserves a closer look – especially from Europe.

The United States’ Pacific Northwest region hosts smart grid pioneers, such as the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) as well as several top smart grid institutions including ITRON, the world’s leading maker of smart meters. These institutions not only develop the research and technology necessary for the grid transformation, but also have joined forces to further smart grid deployment.

Take for example the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, the largest smart grid demonstration project in the US. It brought together BPA, Battelle, 11 utilities across five states plus several leading technology partners. Beyond deploying smart grid assets, this demonstration is focusing on integrating renewable energy and developing a transactive control system. This will translate the grid’s supply and demand of electricity into a signal that is received by responsive assets, such as smart water heaters and electric vehicles. Those assets will automatically react to and shift demand away from the grid during current peak times, supporting reduced emissions and more resilient grid.

There are several other smart grid innovations from the region including the decentralized Grid Friendly Charging Technology, which varies the charging rates for electric vehicles depending on de state of the grid, and research on the smart grid business case. Additionally open-source simulation software, such as PNNL’s GridLAB-D,for example, can simulate the interplay of assets, control strategies, and communication devices and examine how a virtual smart grid would operate before money is spent on deployment. Developed in the region, it is now used and enhanced by users worldwide.

The cooperation between the public and private smart grid institutions in the region makes it easier for regional grid operators and planners to turn research into deployed action. It lead to the positioning of the Pacific Northwest to be a leader for grid modernization. At the same time, this experience and the need to tackle the commonly shared smart grid challenges existing in both the US and Europe invite for more international cooperation to share experiences and achieve a greener and more efficient grid worldwide.

Nik Foster is a communication specialist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where he supports the energy and environment division.