Megawatt? A Powerful Question.

posted Oct 20, 2016

Graphic courtesy of PJM Learning Center

When I used to go to the store to get a 60-watt light bulb, it was a pretty simple experience. I could purchase any bulb that had 60 W on the label and knew what I was getting and how bright it would be. Now when I go to the store and get a similar LED bulb, the label informs me that the 8 to 12-watt bulb has the same brightness as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. If both light bulbs produce the same amount of light, why do they use a different number of watts?

A watt is a measurement of power. In the case of an incandescent light bulb, it measures the electrical energy used to heat the bulb’s filament, which in turn produces light. An LED bulb requires less power to produce the same light, mostly because it produces a lot less heat. That’s why LED bulbs are more energy efficient than an incandescent light bulb.

You may be familiar with the power required to run other appliances like a washing machine (500 watts) or a water heater (5,000 watts). If you run that washing machine for an hour, it requires 500 watt-hours of energy. The energy requirements of all such appliances make up the usage in a household. In 2014, an average household in the Pacific Northwest used about 11 million watt-hours, or 11 megawatt-hours of energy over the year.

Commercial and industrial sectors often use more appliances that are more energy intensive than in homes. That same grocery store where I bought my light bulb might use around 2,500 megawatt-hours annually. To get a feel for the difference in usage, an average commercial customer uses almost seven times as much electricity in a year as a household. An average industrial customer uses nearly 40 times as much electricity in a year as a household.

How does this translate into the need for new power plants and energy efficiency?

Power plants generate electricity to meet demand. A 1-megawatt power plant could produce 8,760 megawatt-hours a year powering about 796 average regional households. If that same plant generated power 70 percent of the time, like some natural gas fueled power plants, it would produce about 6,132 megawatt-hours powering about 557 households. If that plant generated only 32 percent of the time, like a wind plant in the Columbia Gorge, it would produce 2,803 megawatt-hours powering about 254 households.

In the next 20 years, the Seventh Power Plan forecasts that regional demand might grow as much as 38.5 million megawatt-hours. One way to help meet that need might be to plan to build a few more power plants. However, an essential part of the Council’s
energy strategy is finding better ways to use the power we already produce, like changing that 60-watt incandescent to an LED lightbulb.

Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

(see full story)

Fuel Of The Future?

posted Oct 18, 2016

Torrefied arundo donax, ready for the grinder.

The roasted cane of a cellulose-rich grass that can grow up to 18 feet tall in a year may be the fuel of the future for the only coal-fired power plant in Oregon. The plant near Boardman, majority-owned by Portland General Electric, is scheduled to stop burning coal at the end of 2020.

PGE is exploring alternative, low-emission renewable fuels for the plant as part its strategy to rely increasingly on energy efficiency, demand response — voluntary reductions in customer electricity use during periods of high demand and limited power availability — and renewable energy including hydropower to serve its 848,000 customers. With the approval of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, the Boardman plant could convert to burn only biomass fuel.

The challenge to burn a biomass fuel in a power plant designed to burn pulverized coal is that the new fuel must look and burn like the fuel it is replacing.

“You have to make the biomass conform to the way we burn coal at Boardman,” Wayne Lei, who is in charge of research and development at PGE, told the Council in October. “You have to make it crispy so you can pound it into a really fine powder — like pulverized coal. We have to ensure it will grind well, burn well, and that the ash performance will be similar to coal.”

Arundo donax, giant cane, requires about as much water to grow as corn.

Biomass can be defined as any organic matter that is used as a fuel, from dried grass to wood waste. The process of making it crispy and grindable — much like roasting and grinding coffee beans, Lei said — is called torrefication. Working with its partner, Oregon Torrefication, PGE has tested more than 30 varieties of plants and wood, from corn stalks and wheat straw to fir chips and mint, and also invasive species including English ivy, Himalayan blackberry vines, and Russian Olive wood. “This might be a very good way to get rid of invasive species in the future,” Lei said.

Of them all, though giant cane, arundo donax, has shown the greatest promise. It has a high cellulous content — the part of the plant that remains after torrefication — compresses well into charcoal-like lumps, grinds well, and burns almost precisely like the Wyoming coal the Boardman plant uses now.

Most likely, if PGE gets regulatory approval to go ahead, the plant would burn a combination of torrefied arundo donax and wood waste. PGE is working with Sustainable Northwest, the Blue Mountains Forest Partners collaborative, and other partners in eastern Oregon to develop a source of wood for fuelstock. PGE also plans to work with local landowners to grow the giant cane.

The next step is to conduct a multiple-day test burn at the Boardman plant in December and monitor air emissions and fuel performance. Converting to plant-based, torrefied renewable fuels could require additional pollution controls at the plant for particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, Lei said.

(see full story)

Transmission Group Finds Energy Efficiency Helps Defer Costs of Expanding the Grid

posted Oct 17, 2016


Although transmission planning lies outside the scope of the Council’s power planning responsibilities, it coordinates its work with the region’s transmission planners in order to understand how grid expansions affect energy resources. 

At its October power committee meeting, Paul Didsayabutra, manager of grid planning for ColumbiaGrid, reviewed his organization’s planning activities, including the results of its 2016 system assessment. The ColumbiaGrid's mission is to improve the reliability and efficient use of the Northwest's transmission grid.

Low load growth over the past several years is one of the key takeaways from the assessment. Reduced industrial loads, energy efficiency, and other demand-side activities are the primary factors causing load reduction. And this results in a more cost-efficient transmission system. 

“Energy efficiency means less electricity consumption, which helps defer transmission upgrades,” said Didsayabutra. 

The Council’s Seventh Power Plan recommends developing about 4,300 average megawatts of energy efficiency by 2035 to meet all forecast load growth over that timeframe.

(see full story)

Powering the Internet of Things

posted Oct 17, 2016


In the span of a generation, the Internet, and the innovative technologies devised to use it, from the personal computer to smart phones, has transformed virtually every aspect of our lives. And this is just the beginning.

The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 20 billion connected devices, generating $300 billion in revenue.

"Aside from connected cars, consumer uses will continue to account for the greatest number of connected things, while enterprise will account for the largest spending," according to Jim Tully, vice president at Gartner.

At the Council’s October power committee meeting, Massoud Jourabchi, manager of economic analysis, presented information on the kind of products that are part of the Internet of Things.

One provocative example is lighting, which Jourabchi noted experts consider a key pathway to an interconnected smart home.

Smart, solid-state lighting that can be controlled through connected devices to turn on or off, adjust brightness, or change color, have other uses, too. They have the potential to provide time of use metering, security monitoring, and detect radiation levels as well.

Could the smart home of the future monitor our breathing and heart rates? Sensors that test for sleep apnea, monitor a sleeping baby, or enable the elderly to age in place are just some of the ways a connected home might operate.

For office buildings, connected sensors offer the same advantages as in the home: efficiencies in heating and cooling systems, lighting, and security, and also in improving communication systems.

In retail businesses, devices will enable seamless shopper discounting, inventory and ordering, and monitoring store traffic and customer behavior. Medical facilities will be able to know when a patient has fallen or stressed. And in manufacturing and industrial applications, predictive analytics and process monitoring is expected to improve production and reduce downtime.

As more and more products connect through the Internet, the impact on consumer services and the economy is both far-reaching and profound.

In the coming months, the Council will be taking a closer look at the implications of our growing digital economy, including concerns about privacy, security, standards for integration, as well as the environmental concerns over battery materials and the safe disposal of used batteries.


One Day, Cars Will Connect With Your Fridge and Your Heartbeat

The Internet of Things Is Far Bigger Than Anyone Realizes

(see full story)

Storable Power

posted Oct 17, 2016

Tesla's Powerwall for home installation.

As renewable energy, primarily wind and solar power, proliferates across the Northwest and increases our supply of low-cost, carbon-free energy, there also is a growing need to store energy so it can be released into the regional power grid when renewable generation declines, as when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

Consequently, research and development is focused on promising, utility-scale storage devices and also on identifying and resolving regulatory issues so that storage, like renewable energy, can proliferate. While there is progress, technological and policy hurdles remain, a panel of energy storage experts told the Council at a recent meeting.

The concept is simple: energy storage systems convert electricity into a storable form of energy at one point in time and release the energy back as electricity at a later point in time. This is particularly important during periods of high demand for electricity, such as early morning and early evening. Storage technologies under study include pumped-storage hydropower (See, for example, this Council presentation), compressed air systems that can spin a turbine, and utility-scale batteries.

The Council’s Seventh Power Plan (February 2016) notes that the ability to store and release energy can make renewable generation more valuable by, for example, storing a portion of solar energy generation that peaks during the afternoon and then releasing it to the transmission grid at night. Storage also can be used during emergencies and to defer infrastructure upgrades to the high-voltage transmission system by reducing wear and tear from operating in overloaded conditions.

Large-scale batteries are becoming more efficient and capable of storing large amounts of energy for longer periods of time, panelists told the Council. For example, Sarah Van Cleve, energy policy advisor for electric car maker Tesla, said the company is evolving from just building electric cars to making residential and utility-scale energy-storage products including the Powerwall, which can store and release up to 6.4 kilowatt-hours – enough to meet all the electrical needs of an average Northwest home for about four hours – and the utility-scale Powerpack, which can deliver up to 100 kilowatt-hours for commercial uses. Those modules can be connected to boost the total power output. See presentation.

Tesla's vision of large, connected storage batteries to power commercial buildings.

She and other panelists said improvements such as increased battery cell density, which allows batteries to hold more energy for longer periods of time, are helping to bring down their cost and make them more competitive with energy-generating technologies. Panelists also identified several barriers to continued energy storage development, including grid processes and tariffs that must be updated to accommodate energy storage on the grid; incorporating energy storage into traditional energy planning, and electricity rate designs to accommodate storage.

These and other challenges also were noted by Rebecca O’Neil of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, which is working with Oregon and Washington utility energy regulatory agencies. She said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is interested in energy storage technologies and is researching how to reduce institutional and regulatory hurdles to make storage comparable in cost with other power grid resources.

Meanwhile, electric utilities in Oregon and Washington have been directed by their regulatory agencies to analyze, among other things, how well traditional energy resource planning tools are able to evaluate energy storage opportunities and whether there are alternative methods to demonstrate energy storage system benefits through regulatory processes. O’Neil said PNNL is developing a report that will assess these planning questions. The report is planned for release next year.

(see full story)

The Blob Is Back

posted Oct 11, 2016

Old Door, New Opening

posted Oct 6, 2016

Fun With Sturgeon

posted Sep 20, 2016

Cool Relief

posted Sep 15, 2016

Upper Columbia Salmon Habitat

posted Sep 14, 2016

No Gain

posted Sep 14, 2016

The Invasion Strengthens

posted Sep 13, 2016

Cold Water Refuge

posted Aug 11, 2016

Building on a Legacy Resource

posted Aug 5, 2016

Salmon Smorgasbord

posted Jul 14, 2016

Tapping Into Geothermal Energy

posted Jun 21, 2016

Fish And Warm Water Don't Mix

posted Jun 20, 2016

Going, going, almost gone

posted Jun 7, 2016

Early Warning System

posted May 27, 2016

In the (Efficient) Spotlight

posted Apr 25, 2016

The Mystery of Swan Lake

posted Apr 13, 2016

A boost for northern pike removal

posted Apr 13, 2016

They're back, and they're hungry

posted Mar 23, 2016

Warm ocean, small salmon: Why?

posted Mar 7, 2016

Seventh Power Plan Homestretch

posted Dec 15, 2015

Touring Baker Dam

posted Jul 8, 2015

Forest Fires and Fish Habitat

posted May 19, 2015

This Plan Is Your Plan

posted Apr 30, 2015

Lunch and Learn With the Council

posted Mar 31, 2015

Scenario Analysis Begins

posted Feb 11, 2015

Scenario Analysis Is Coming!

posted Jan 22, 2015

"The Objectives Process" begins

posted Dec 11, 2014

Why We Plan for Uncertainty

posted Nov 19, 2014

Why We Have a Regional Power Plan

posted Oct 29, 2014

Estimating Energy Efficiency

posted Oct 24, 2014

Seventh Power Plan 101

posted Oct 6, 2014

BPA Energy Efficiency Funding

posted Mar 12, 2014

Weathering a Cold Snap

posted Jan 17, 2014

The Seventh Power Plan

posted Dec 11, 2013

Designing for Efficiency

posted Nov 12, 2013

The Flexibility Challenge

posted Oct 30, 2013

Northwest Q & A: Robert D. Kahn

posted Oct 29, 2013

Tagging Sturgeon in Astoria

posted Aug 22, 2013

Habitat Tours Focus on Results

posted May 31, 2013

Sustainability Is Success

posted May 29, 2013

A Last Look at Condit Dam

posted Oct 24, 2011

Changing Minds, Changing the Land

posted Jul 26, 2011

Wind Power, Then and Now

posted Apr 18, 2011

The Rebound Effect: Is It Real?

posted Feb 1, 2011

An Update on Didymo

posted Jan 27, 2011

Didymo: A New Kind of Invader

posted Jan 18, 2011

A Good Year for Returning Salmon

posted Sep 30, 2010

Building a Better Battery

posted Aug 11, 2010

Using Batteries to Store Energy

posted Jul 28, 2010

Growing Summer Energy Demand

posted Jul 26, 2010

California's Energy Scene

posted Jul 23, 2010

Ensuring Efficiency

posted Jun 21, 2010

Making Wind Work

posted Jun 7, 2010

Clean Tech Draws VC Funding

posted May 3, 2010

And the Wind Came Up

posted Apr 6, 2010