|The Gem State Hydroelectric facility is capable of generating 22.4 megawatts of electricity for Idaho Falls, but that is subject to the run of the river, which will be part of what is studied in the collaboration between the city and INL.|
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the program Thursday. In all, INL is leading or acting as a partner in 15 projects that could bring more than $5 million to the lab over the next three years. One of those proposals involves improving the physical security of Idaho Falls’ municipally owned distribution system.
Idaho Falls Power Director Jackie Flowers said the idea of working with INL came after an outage in December 2013 left city residents without electricity for several hours in subzero cold. The morning of Dec. 4, she arrived at work to learn that the Balancing Authority -- which controls the electric grid that
serves power providers in the area — had ordered the city to shed 35 megawatts in 30 minutes. This was to cope with an outage already going on in the wider territory served by Rocky Mountain Power.
“For 10 minutes, we stood there asking, ‘Are they serious?’” Flowers said. They were, and between 7:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., about 3,500 Idaho Falls Power customers were without juice. All this was judged necessary to keep the entire grid from crashing when Rocky Mountain Power attempted to restore service to nearly 49,000 Idaho customers left in the dark. Afterwards, city officials began talking about how they could make the grid more robust.
Idaho Falls Power had already been working with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on the Pacific Smart Grid Demonstration Project. After hearing a talk on grid modernization by David Danielson, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, they began to learn what was available through INL, which does a lot of battery research for DOE.
The proposal approved Thursday teams Idaho Falls Power and INL with Schweitzer Engineering Labs, Washington State University and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to test smart reconfiguration. INL has a real time digital simulator that allows it to model how the city can spread load evenly during times of high demand. Battery research at the lab will allow the utility to explore ways to store energy from its hydroelectric and wind turbines.
“It’s so fun to coordinate with folks that have all these,” Flowers said.
Overall, a more secure grid is likely to save the city money. Outages caused by severe weather cost the U.S. economy an average of $18 billion to $33 billion a year, according to a White House report released in 2012. The hits come from lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production and damage to the electric grid. In 2012, when 8.5 million people lost power due to Superstorm Sandy, those costs rose as high as $52 billion.
The report argued for the need to update the nation's electric grid: high-voltage transmission lines connected to power plants, local distribution systems, and power management and control systems. Seventy percent of the nation’s transmission lines and power transformers are more than 25 years old.
“Modernizing the U.S. electrical grid is essential to reducing carbon emissions, creating safeguards against attacks on our infrastructure, and keeping the lights on,” Moniz said Thursday. The Grid Modernization Initiative represents a comprehensive DOE effort to help shape the future of the United States' grid. It seeks to solve the challenges of integrating conventional and renewable sources with energy storage and smart buildings while ensuring that the grid is resilient and secure in the face of growing cyber security and climate challenges.