The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project inaugurated its first widespread demonstration project Oct. 24 at Alder Hall.
The event marked the official beginning of UW’s effort to install a campus-wide smart grid that tracks power output in every building.
Approximately 90 people attended the event, with U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, and UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce among the speakers.
“It’s a phase of technology that we haven’t had before and it’s very exciting for us to participate in something as experimental and beneficial as this would be,” said Charles Kennedy, UW associate vice president of facilities services.
The Smart Grid, in its UW manifestation, aims to track energy usage by installing consumption meters in several buildings and distributing energy measuring kits to students for personal use. Armed with a power strip and a wireless control panel, students can plug in devices and track or adjust them on the panel, which then relays the information to a central monitor that tracks the whole building’s consumption.
“Students can name and track their devices even on their phone,” said Jon Sargeant, project engineer and employee of McKinstry Company, one of the agencies collaborating with UW in the demonstration. “I have a son at Evergreen, so one of my concerns going in was if the equipment could survive, but you can plug in whatever you want, Xbox, iPod charger, anything.”
Elm Hall will serve as the first residence hall in which students will receive their kits, and the central tracking monitor will measure the building’s total consumption of energy. Poplar Hall will act as the control building, in which the energy output of the building will be measured, and students will not receive a kit, but instead reports of energy consumption, and they will compete to lower total power use.
“[This effort] involves our faculty, who have been core and key, in the research that makes this possible, our staff, who are the people who make it work, make this possible, and our students, who play a very central role in this,” Cauce said. “Universities are really good at studying this.”
This demonstration grid will track data in Elm and Poplar for two years, while the UW installs and obtains data from 235 utility meters in other campus buildings, such as the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Building and Paccar Hall.
“With this data we hope to better understand how technology affects energy use behavior in campus residence halls,” said Evann Sawyers-Rouse, a second-year graduate student who is part of a team conducting a research project analyzing the data from the project. “It helps students have a better control over their energy use and enhances their knowledge.”
Uniting the measured data in a central location, new software will analyze energy consumption building by building in almost real time, and test the feasibility of integrating various generators, boilers, furnaces, and the like into a grid that spans the entire campus.
“Sustainability’s really an important issue on the UW campus,” said Duncan Clauson, a graduate student in public policy and environmental studies. “The student body has really brought a lot of excitement [to these events], and put up its own money to make sustainability universal.”
The entire project costs $10.2 million, half of that coming from the $178 million federal project. The whole project spans Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with 15 other sites also obtaining grids to inform customers of their power consumption. It’s funded by a $3.4 billion grant to the Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Sen. Cantwell [made] tremendous efforts during the energy bill,” Murray said. “She wrote the Smart Grid provision of that energy bill and made sure it was the final bill that went to the president.”
The team that runs the project draws from 11 utilities, with approximately 1,500 jobs generated by the project across the region. At the UW alone, the smart grid at Elm and Poplar is projected to save 2.3 million megawatt hours of electricity, 15 million pounds of steam, and $350,000 a year, while eliminating 3,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. Further additions are hoped to help the UW lower its energy costs substantially.
“I’m really looking forward to watching this project here,” Murray said, “and the larger Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project that will really help provide some critical data points that will help chart the path forward into a smart grid future for all of us.”
Reach reporter Garrett Black at email@example.com. Twitter: @GarrettJBlack
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