Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1

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Smarter Grid

What is "Smart Grid"?

A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to improve reliability and increase efficiencies. A smart grid is a very broad term that covers modernization of both transmission and distribution systems. It enables greater use of clean, variable energy sources (such as wind and solar energy), establishes the automation and monitoring capabilities needed for distribution and transmission systems (see FAQs to the right) and helps promote energy conservation.

Lineman climbing poleIn other words, a smart grid is the foundation for a modern electrical grid. It’s an evolution of the grid that creates a two-way digital telecommunications network, substation automation and a robust distribution system. It will help the PUD and its customers realize greater efficiencies and enhance overall reliability.

Some of the key benefits include:

  • Improves reliability by allowing the utility to identify and isolate power outages
  • Allows utility and its customers to better integrate green energy sources in the grid
  • Enhances two-way communications throughout the PUD service area
  • Facilitates integration of plug-in electric vehicles

PUD Completes Fiber Optic Upgrade on Time, Under Budget

Chris Fate in Smart Grid roomThe PUD completed the first major project as part of a multi-year effort to upgrade its electric grid with smart grid technology – on time and under budget. The utility has installed 163 miles of fiber optic cable connecting its final set of 49 substations, a radio site and utility buildings. The project is supported by $15.8 million in matching federal stimulus dollars under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.

These technology upgrades provide the ability to measure, monitor and control power via robust two-way communications. All of this work moves the utility toward the ability to support smarter systems.

Additional Projects

The fiber installation is the first of several projects that will eventually include automation of substations, a Distribution Management System and distribution automation.

In the future, these upgrades will help customers get their service restored sooner and allow the utility to provide more detailed outage information. Additional system upgrades will allow the PUD to plan for other features as well, such as advanced metering to take advantage of new technologies including smart appliances, smart water heaters, dynamic pricing and other opportunities.

Looking forward, customers also will be able to better plan their consumption and incorporate small-scale generating sources, such as solar, into their energy supply. With more customers generating their own power, from sources such solar, an upgraded grid will provide a better means for power to be used closer to the place where it’s actually being created, reducing line losses. In addition, it will enable better integration of electric vehicles as they gain popularity in communities throughout the PUD service area.

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Why is the PUD upgrading its system?

The series of smart grid upgrades will help lay the foundation for a modernized grid system. It represents an evolution of the grid to allow for a two-way digital telecommunications network, substation automation and a robust distribution system infrastructure. It will help the utility and its customers realize greater efficiencies and enhance overall reliability. With the upgrades, during power outages, for example, the utility will be able to automatically re-route power and isolate problem areas before line workers arrive in the field to repair the damage. Ultimately, in the future, smart grid technology will allow customers to better monitor their real-time energy use online or via a smartphone and obtain more detailed storm outage information. Additionally, customers will be able to better plan their consumption and incorporate small-scale generating sources such as solar into their energy supply.

How is the PUD moving toward a Smart Grid?

The PUD is first modernizing its grid through infrastructure improvements on its distribution lines, its communication network and at substations. By concentrating initially on this automation, the utility is laying the groundwork to make a smooth transition to new technologies that enhance reliability, improve energy management and create additional operational efficiencies. In the future, new technologies will allow the PUD to pursue use of advanced meters and other programs for its residential customers.

What’s the timing of the smart grid upgrade?

2010 – The PUD completed installation of 163 miles of fiber optic line.

2012 – Installation of automation hardware at 42 substations.

2013 – Installation of a wireless field area network and automation hardware on poles and substations in a 90-square mile demonstration area in the communities of Tulalip, Warm Beach and Lake Goodwin. It will allow the PUD to test automated line switches, capacitor banks and protection devices and other equipment, which is designed to automatically re-route power and isolate problem areas during power outages creating a “self-healing grid."

2013– A Distribution Management System (DMS) will be operational for the entire distribution system enabling power flow analysis and creation of switch orders. The DMS will also enable automation of field devices within the demonstration area to better manage power outages and improve efficiencies.

2016– All of the PUD’s substations will have automation hardware.

Additional system-wide upgrades will be based on the results of the pilot, technical assessments and availability of funding in future years. Beyond the initial efficiency and reliability benefits for the utility, the upgrades allow the PUD to pursue other features in the future, such as advanced metering. It will allow the PUD and its customers to be ready to take advantage of new technologies such as smart appliances and smart water heaters.

What are some of the key benefits of an upgraded system?
  • Improves reliability by allowing the utility to automatically re-route and isolate power outages.
  • Increases efficiency – for example, modified line voltages could reduce energy line loss by 1-2%.
  • Allows utility and its customers to better integrate green energy sources in the grid.
  • Enhances the two-way flow of information about the electrical grid throughout the PUD service area.
  • Gives customers access to more data through the “Green Button” initiative and other programs.
  • Allows customers more control over their power use and their electric bills.
  • Builds customer framework for advanced metering, smart appliances, smart water heaters.
  • Potential savings in substation maintenance, improved storm response and efficiencies in the field.
  • Reduces the PUD’s carbon footprint.
  • Helps enable integration of widespread PEV (Plug In Electric Vehicles).
  • Provides better outage information to customers.
Are customers’ rates likely to change due to smart grid?

That is yet to be determined. Like all system improvements, enhancements to the PUD’s grid cost money. However, there are measurable benefits in terms of savings. There are numerous ways the PUD could cover the cost of these system improvements, such as financing them over a longer period. The PUD Board of Commissioners sets the rates for customers and any changes would require their review and approval based on a broad range of factors – including system improvements, cost of energy and other commodities, maintenance expenses, etc.

Would the PUD offer time-of-use rates?

This has not been determined. A smart grid could offer time-of-use rates to customers interested in modifying the timing of their energy use. It would give them cheaper rates when energy demand was low and charge higher rates during peak periods. There is no decision at this time to offer time-of-use rates. The PUD Board of Commissioners would need to review rate design options and develop a set of policies in order for these rates to be adopted in the future.

What are transmission and distribution systems?

A transmission system is the network of high-voltage lines, transformers and switches used to move electrical power from generators to the distribution system.

A distribution system is the network of lines, transformers and switches that connect from the transmission network to the areas of customer load – the ultimate use points such as homes and businesses. Distribution network carries electric energy at lower levels than the transmission system.

I’ve heard about the “Green Button” initiative. What is it?

The “Green Button” initiative allows electricity customers with advanced meters the ability to download their own detailed household or building electricity usage information from utilities participating in the program. With it, customers can track their electricity usage on a real time basis, versus reading billing information on a monthly or bi-monthly bill, and, in turn, better manage their electricity use. The program came out of a 2011 White House challenge to utilities. Currently, it’s estimated 20 million customers have access to the system. Until advanced meters are deployed at the PUD, the Green Button will not be available to our customers.