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Mar 30 , 2010
Smart grid work
Avista crews adding new,
larger power lines to area
in North Spokane.
Post by Hugh Imhof

Avista’s Spokane Smart Circuits project is officially off and rolling. On March 23, 2010 The U.S. Department of Energy and Avista signed off on an agreement that will start $20 million in investment grant funds flowing to our community.

The Department of Energy chose Avista’s smart grid project to receive the largest matching grant in Washington.  Avista will contribute $22 million for a total planned project investment of $42 million. The overall project includes the deployment of a distribution management system, intelligent end devices and a communications network along 59 distribution circuits and 14 substations, which will benefit more than 110,000 electric customers

Since January Avista line crews have been preparing the distribution system for the new hardware and software additions that will be elements of the Smart Circuits project. The crews have upgraded power lines along 5.5 miles of the system.

Smart grid work
The cross-arm extensions were
added to this utility pole, so crews
can add new, higher capacity power
lines, while keeping customers in
The new gear to be installed includes smart switches, transformers, regulators, communication devices, capacitors and more. It will take about two years to install all the new equipment and bring the system to functionality.

Once everything is completed, the project will reduce energy losses, lower system costs, increase reliability and enhance the ability to integrate distributed renewable generation resources. Customers will see fewer and shorter outages. The system efficiencies will save about 42,000 Megawatt hours a year and will prevent some 15,000 tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere from power generation.

It is a complicated project involving many individuals and teams from throughout the company. In addition to technical design and engineering the project requires careful timing of purchasing, equipment staging, testing, training, crew scheduling, hiring personnel and much more.

We’ll post updated information about the project as it moves along further.
Published: 3/30/2010  3:19 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 08 , 2010

You’ll get no argument from me. The utility business and energy is pretty complicated. Not everyone understands it completely, and that’s part of the reason Avista created this blog – to keep us all ‘in the know’.

Well, the folks at ESource have created a funny and interesting video, “to learn what everyday people think about the smart grid, utility bills, and how they can save energy.” 

They approached people on the street and asked them some of the common things that utility folks talk about every day. I suspect that if you’re being honest, you’d have answered some of these questions the same way.

They call it Powerwalking 2009. Check it out.
Published: 2/8/2010  11:16 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 12 , 2009
Earlier this week I received an e-mail from an Avista customer named Steve who wanted to know about time of use rates. Coincidentally on Wednesday we had a similar question and answer published in e.view, an Avista employee publication. The info, provided here by Communications Manager Hugh Imhof is good stuff, so – here’s a Q and A about smart grid, peak power usage and time of use rates. 

Question: I have been hearing a lot about smart grid technology and how the utilities will have the ability to turn off appliances especially during times of peak power usage. How do I found out when Avista's peak power usage hours are in my area? Thank you!

Answer: Smart grid technology will mean a number of different things for the electric system. Mainly it is a way to provide automation, using two-way communications within the grid, in order to increase efficiency and reliability, thereby reducing the need for new generation resources.

There is technology involved that would allow customers to monitor and better understand their usage and adjust it for greater efficiency and a savings on their bill. If customers allow us to, the utility will also have the ability to send signals to the home to reduce demand during heavy load periods (extreme weather conditions for example). This could mean turning the thermostat up or down a couple of degrees, or turning off the water heater for a couple of hours… something along those lines. By doing this we reduce overall demand and don’t have to buy expensive power on the market.

Peak loads (when electric use is high) generally occur in the morning and evening hours, before and after normal work times. Loads are lowest in the middle of the night.

In some regions utilities have what is known as “time of use” rates. This allows customers to shift their heavy usage to times when the rates are lower, i.e. late at night when demand is low. This kind of rate structure exists in areas where there is a big differential in what the utility must pay to obtain power between high load and low load periods. This mainly applies where they use a lot of coal-fired generation.

Northwest utilities, like Avista, are mainly hydro based and even though market power prices may vary greatly, there is not a big difference in the cost of generating power at different times of day. Avista has enough of its own resources that we don’t usually need to purchase market power during low load times. Someday, as our mix of generation facilities changes we may have time of use metering. For now we do offer a lot of other ways customers can reduce their energy use. Check out for more. 

Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 11/12/2009  9:26 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 27 , 2009
Smart Grid graphic
This morning, when I got into the office it was still just getting light outside. There was a buzz about the place and I didn’t know why. We’re just like any office, some days are more exciting than others – but today seemed special. A lot of conversations in the halls and happy faces. So, when I opened up my e-mail and found out that Avista had been selected to receive a federal matching grant worth about $20 million for smart grid work, I knew why the tone in the office was so jubilant.

This is very cool news and will give us the opportunity to upgrade a fair amount of our electric line feeder system (improving reliability for your service), lessen the impact on rates (by getting matching funds), create green jobs for our region (could be around 45 jobs), save energy (through efficiency improvements) and serve as an example for other utilities (because we’ve been doing work like this for more than 100 years).

Specifically, the project will include installation of modern equipment and software to enable smart grid capabilities and increase reliability and efficiency.

We originally applied for funds for this project last summer. Read the August 4 blog post, “Smart grid details: Spokane’s smart circuits.” Given that this is only October, the stimulus funds process is moving at a rapid pace and we expect to start the feeder upgrade work by the end of this year. The whole project is expected to take 36 months to complete.

Learn more about the stimulus funding award in our news release.
Published: 10/27/2009  2:05 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Sep 11 , 2009
Occasionally on this blog, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and let somebody else do the talking. An informative editorial from the Spokesman-Review this morning allows me to do just that.

Check out, “Smart grid offers leap forward on power usage” in today’s S-R. It’s a nice follow to the smart grid posts we’ve had on this blog over the last few weeks, such, “Pullman to get even smarter thanks to the grid” and “The smart grid for 5-year-olds.”

Happy Friday everyone.
Published: 9/11/2009  8:25 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Sep 09 , 2009
For any of you Washington State University grads or fans out there, the thought that Pullman was not a “smart city” already probably never crossed your mind. Go Cougs! But thanks to a new proposed project that Avista and some regional partners recently announced, the community of Pullman, Wash., is about to get a whole lot smarter – no homework assignments required.
Avista has joined with regional partners, led by Battelle, to develop a smart grid demonstration project using matching stimulus monies from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The proposal’s intent is to show how smart grid technology can enhance the safety, reliability and efficiency of energy delivery on a regional and national level.

Avista electric customers in the area will benefit greatly from this proposed project by experiencing greater reliability, shorter outage times and the opportunity to monitor energy in order to use it more efficiently, at less cost.
Customers will also be able to see up close and personal what smart grid really means to individuals, not just power companies.

Pullman makes sense as a demonstration project site because it is a bit of an electric island and we can make technological improvements to the entire area over a relatively short period of time – about two years. We plan to apply proven technology that will allow the system to adjust automatically to changes in electric demand and supply, provide automated restoration for local outages, utilize two-way communications between the electric meter and the utility and prepare the electric distribution system for future technologies.
This project helps Avista move the region (and nation) closer to establishing a more efficient and effective electricity infrastructure that’s expected to help contain costs, reduce emissions, incorporate more wind power and other types of renewable energy, increase power grid reliability and provide greater flexibility for consumers.

The proposal was submitted to the DOE last month and we expect to hear back in the next few months. As for the dollar amounts, the Pullman project will cost approximately $38 million. Avista will contribute $12.9 million of that cost. The other entities participating in the project include Schweitzer Engineering, Washington State University, Itron, Hewlett Packard, and Spirae.

More resources
For more information about this project, check out the Spokesman-Review article from this morning’s paper, “‘Smart grid’ to get test” or Oregon’s Daily Journal of Commerce article, “Northwest energy test may have national impact.”
Published: 9/9/2009  10:00 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 24 , 2009
As recently as last night I was trying to explain what “smart grid” was to my five-year-old. Needless to say, she didn’t quite get the concept. She just knows if the lights go out “the batteries are dead.” I’m OK with that understanding for now – it’s probably more than I knew at that age.

So last night we were watching a TV news show that was reporting on smart grid stimulus funding. I’ve pointed out power lines plenty of times to my kids for safety reasons, but what they do is still a mystery and to be honest, before I started working at a utility, it was a bit of a mystery to me too. How does the electricity generated hundreds of miles away get to my blender? Seems pretty smart already, right?

We’ve been talking more and more about smart grid and Avista even applied for some federal stimulus funding earlier this month for some projects. In a previous post we said that in general, having a smart electric grid means using technology to enhance the flow of energy and information while increasing reliability, efficiency and decreasing costs. My five-year-old just walked away when I said that. Go figure.

So, we’re all still trying to figure it out – or at least how to talk about it. In the meantime, you can checkout this detailed presentation called “The Smart Grid: An Introduction” from the Department of Energy. It’s definitely more than an introduction and more information than you need for your everyday life, but it’s a nice reference piece to have if you’re studying to be on Jeopardy or just really want to know about this stuff.

In the end, I told my daughter that the smart grid will help our house, and the black wires attached to it, talk with the power company.

“Dad, power lines don’t talk,” she said. “Maybe mom knows.”

I give up. 

Anyone out there have a good explanation of smart grid for me to use?
Published: 8/24/2009  12:15 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 04 , 2009
Yesterday we announced that Avista has applied for federal funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for the first of two smart grid electric distribution projects. Read yesterday’s blog post here. This means we’re working to lay the groundwork for smart grid’s technological advances in the future while making our electric distribution system more efficient and reliable today.

In the last post I promised to provide a few details about this first project. Here goes. We’re calling the Spokane smart grid project, Smart Circuits. In a nutshell, the project would dramatically upgrade electric distribution lines, known as “feeders” in the Spokane area. To understand how this work qualifies as “smart grid,” a little Electric Grid 101 is in order.

Let’s consider efficiency first. When electricity is made at a dam or wind turbine, it doesn’t go directly to your house. It twists and turns through transmission lines (big ones), into substations and then distribution lines (littler ones) and eventually to you. Electricity could travel hundreds of miles. During this marathon run, some of its energy is lost. This project would reduce losses – saving ratepayer dollars. It would also reduce carbon emissions by about 15,000 tons per year. This reduction is based on less electricity needing to be produced for the same electric demand.

Now let’s think of reliability. For simplicity sake, assume that if a tree falls on the power line that feeds your neighborhood, everyone who gets power through that line, loses power. We send out a crew to fix it and your lights get turned back on. This might take a few hours, depending on your location and the severity of the damage to the line. Many people are impacted from one small incident on the line.

Now imagine if the power lines were smart enough to know where that tree fell and the system could isolate the issue, and leave most, if not all, of your neighborhood’s power on. The system could do this in seconds. This would be a much better solution for everyone. By installing sensors, capacitors, automatic switches and replacing aging equipment like transformers, this scenario is possible.

Why it’s really smart now
While there are many companies currently researching and developing new technologies that will allow energy users (you) to have more active participation with energy providers (us), through the grid – mass implementation is years out for sure. You can’t just stick a new device in your house and expect to become part of the smart grid. Your utility needs to ensure the grid is equipped with technology and communication equipment to make it happen. Getting our grid ready today means we’ll be ready when future smart grid interactions become reality.

We’ll continue to update the blog about smart grid issues as news breaks, but if you have any questions in the meantime, submit a comment below.
Published: 8/4/2009  8:54 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 03 , 2009
There’s been a lot of talk recently about smart grid. It’s a buzz word on TV and the Internet that doesn’t really have a clear definition for most people. In general, having a smart electric grid means using technology to enhance the flow of energy and information while increasing reliability, efficiency and decreasing costs.

What it could mean in the future is anyone’s guess, but Avista is looking to lead the way by utilizing technology that we’re already experts on, that will provide the framework for future “smart grid” enhancements.  Just today, we applied for federal funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for the first of two smart grid electric distribution projects. Read the news release.

We’ve requested $20 million, but have committed to investing $22 million in matching funds to ensure a successful project. Leveraging the stimulus money will result in reduced pressure on customer rates; making costs lower than they would have been without stimulus funding.

We expect to hear back on our application in October. The Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (SGIG) is administered by the Department of Energy.

The reality of today’s announcement is that while smart grid has unlimited potential for technological advances into the future, the prudent thing for Avista and our customers today is to be prepared for all future possibilities. This project lays that groundwork while making our electric distribution system more efficient and reliable today.

We’ll put a post up tomorrow with a few more details on the first project we’ve requested funds for.
Published: 8/3/2009  12:50 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 01 , 2009
Post by Hugh Imhof

Recently we received an e-mail from Fred through the blog Contact page. He’s not alone, we’ve gotten more than 100 e-mails over the last week alone on a variety of subjects. Fred’s questions might be particularly interesting to other customers, so I’ve paraphrased them and the answers below.

Why doesn’t Avista provide time of day metering? Is it because of your hydro resources?
You are correct that hydropower is the main reason we don’t have time of day metering. In many states, where the power supply is largely from thermal resources such as coal, gas, oil, etc., time of day makes sense because there is a large differential in costs for peak load and low load power. The differential for us is very small. At some point things may change as loads grow and different resources are added.

Do you have programs to incentivize homeowners to install solar, or wind power?
We do have incentives for installing alternative energy technology on your home. There are also tax incentives available. Find more information here. Avista also has many helpful ways for customers to be energy efficient. There are variety of programs and rebates for energy-efficient equipment that you can use in your home or business.
Solar panels on Avista building
Solar panels shine on the roof of a building on Avista’s Spokane headquarters. The panels are being used to power Avista’s plug-in electric car.

Can Avista handle a plug-in hybrid car if I buy one?
Avista is currently testing a couple of plug-in hybrids [LINK] to help us prepare for a future that will likely include many of these vehicles in our service area. We have also installed some solar voltaic panels to offset the energy these vehicles use to charge up. There are various considerations for the demand plug-ins will put on the grid and this could actually help lead to some form of time of day metering or other incentives to spread out the demand. Stay tuned.

Thanks for your questions, Fred.
Published: 7/1/2009  1:56 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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