Higher education is getting a little smarter. That's because last fall the UW became part of a regional test of a smart grid—a system that uses technology to improve power delivery-and-use through intelligent, two-way communication. Utilizing wireless sensor networks, software and computing, a smart grid enables utilities and users to see how much, and where, energy is being consumed.
The $9.3 million smart micro grid project—part of the $178 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, funded by the Department of Energy and managed by Battelle—is being developed by Seattle City Light, the UW and McKinstry Energy Services. While the project scope is still being determined, it will include the installation of smart meters that can monitor electric consumption for multiple buildings on campus and the installation of monitoring and control equipment in lab or classroom buildings and some dormitories, allowing UW administrators to better understand how energy is used on campus and better manage their facilities and control energy costs.
The smart grid test could also allow the UW to test its solar photovoltaic panels to determine when they could be dispatched to feed power to the grid, make use of two-way communication to avoid short-term power disruptions, determine the best time to charge the school's electric vehicles and more. During the project—and perhaps again after the concept is proven—a few lucky students will be able to view their electricity usage and manage their own consumption. Installation of equipment and technology begins in 2010; monitoring will be complete by early 2014.
The smart grid could allow the UW to: 1) determine when solar panels could be dispatched to feed power to the grid; 2) employ smart meters for consumption monitoring; 3) make use of two-way communication to avoid short-term power disruptions; 4) determine the best time to charge the school's electric vehicles; 5) receive a signal from the utility to activate backup generation when, for example, the wind isn't blowing; 6) let some students monitor—and manage—their electricity consumption.