WSU, Avista collaborate to stabilize electrical load

PULLMAN, Wash. – One of the challenges of relying on renewable generation, such as solar cells and wind turbines, is that changes in weather conditions can lead to sudden drops in the amount of generation provided. Such unpredictable fluctuations create challenges for utilities that require a constant balance of sufficient electric generation to meet customer demand reliably.

And because it can sometimes take quite a while to bring backup generators online or arrange to purchase additional power from outside the region, energy companies, like Avista Utilities, need to be able to respond to such sudden drops in renewable generation. One way to achieve this is by “shedding,” or reducing, some of their electrical load – which essentially means asking certain customers to quickly cut back their electrical usage.
As an institution committed to the research development of clean energy technologies and one of the larger energy consumers on Avista Utilities’ regional grid, Washington State
University is uncommonly well positioned to support the continued development of renewable energy and help stabilize the electrical grid in the face of sudden losses in power generation.
In 2009, Avista was named one of 11 utilities to participate in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project led by Battelle Northwest. It’s the largest, regional smart grid demonstration in the nation, and one aspect of the project is to make the city of Pullman the region’s first smart grid community.
The project also integrates smart grid concepts developed by WSU Facilities Services in partnership with Avista to make WSU Pullman a smart grid campus. The WSU College of Engineering and Architecture is involved in the project to provide analysis and reporting of results under the direction of faculty member Anjan Bose.
“The intent of the Smart Grid Demonstration Project in Pullman is to show how the electric grid can react to sudden changes in power supply and demand within the region. Because it takes a significant amount of energy to run a campus the size of WSU, we can adjust how much energy our utility has to supply to WSU by modifying the energy levels in the schools’ buildings and facilities,” said Avista’s Heather Rosentrater, director of smart grid projects.
“What we learn about power supply and demand on a regional scale can be applied at a national level to create a more responsive and reliable grid. Ultimately, we will all benefit from what we learn in Pullman,” Rosentrater said.
The $4.2 million WSU Facilities Services project is being implemented by a WSU team led by Terry Ryan, WSU director of energy systems operations.
The project was funded from a variety of sources, including $1.8 million in U.S. Department of Energy Smart Grid Demonstration Project grant funding, $1 million from energy savings using the energy savings performance contracting process, $600,000 in rebates and direct funding from Avista, $552,000 from a state commerce department energy grant and $256,000 in major capital from the WSU global animal health project.
Ryan said there are three ways WSU can assist Avista in stabilizing its electrical grid.
“We have three generators at the Grimes Way steam plant that can be used to serve some of our own facilities and reduce the WSU load on the regional utility grid,” he said. “We can conduct a chilled water load shed, where we temporarily reduce our electrical water chilling load by increasing the output from our chilled water storage tank.
“And we can shed a significant portion of our HVAC load by reducing air flow and related electrical fan loads in selected non-lab areas of 28 campus buildings for short time periods,” he said. “This feature also allows us to implement energy-saving load reductions during low occupancy periods such as evenings and weekends.
“The HVAC load shed procedures involve selected non-laboratory, low-impact areas like offices, hallways, conference rooms and classrooms within retrofitted buildings,” said Ryan. “When Avista requests WSU to initiate an HVAC load shed, the air flow in the selected rooms will be reduced to near zero for about 15 minutes at the most. This will normally have little noticeable effect other than an interruption of the normal air flow noise.
“But there is an override button on the room thermostat in each of the affected rooms, which allows occupants to override the air flow reduction in their room should it become necessary,” he said. The selected rooms can be identified by special labeling on the thermostat or from the building/room listing.
The HVAC load shed capability will also allow WSU to reduce the significant energy waste that occurs during the low occupancy periods in the evening and on weekends by reducing ventilation levels after working hours, Ryan said.
“As an energy-saving measure, the load shed feature will be triggered in the selected rooms every evening after 5 p.m. and throughout the weekend,” he said. “The override function on the thermostats will remain active, however. This means any occupant will be able to restore normal conditions in the room for a two-hour period as many times as necessary by simply pressing a button on the thermostat.
“The load shed and override functions are active only when the applicable building fan systems are already running,” he said. “Once the fan systems shut down for the night, the override is not functional.”
Ryan said WSU is also automating parts of the campus high voltage system at two substations to improve power reliability and recovery from outages.
The Smart Grid Demonstration Project has stimulated discussion between Facilities Services and the College of Engineering and Architecture on the smart grid applications in progress as well as collaboration for future analysis and improvements of the campus high voltage distribution systems.
Additionally, two other major energy management enhancements on the Pullman campus are expected to be completed this year:
 Development of an enterprise energy management system (EEMS) utilizing networked smart meters to monitor energy use at connected buildings in a near-real-time mode. Energy data will be recorded and available for energy reporting, analysis and predictive maintenance. The EEMS will provide Web access for viewing campus energy use data.
 Implementation of a conservation voltage reduction system with Avista to provide optimized voltage control based on actual building voltages. Switching capacitor banks on the high voltage feeders will be integrated in the system to improve system power factors. A reduction in electrical demand as well as energy use is a result of the better voltage and power factor regulation.
“The smart grid concept drives an evolution of our electrical distribution system equipment to a level where the monitoring and control of the equipment can be done automatically and remotely,” Ryan said. “One of the most important elements in making a smart grid ‘smart’ is the network communications, which support the high-speed monitoring and control necessary for effective functions.
“The project is enhancing our existing campus operational network connectivity and capability in ways that will provide opportunity for improved visibility and reliability of all campus utility systems in the future,” he said.
WSU expects to achieve energy savings of approximately $150,000 annually as a result of the smart grid enhancements, he said.
“None of it could have been achieved without a significant team effort by virtually all of Facilities Services, and particularly from the info systems and maintenance groups, as well as a whole host of other campus organizations,” he said. “And of course, we relied heavily on the work and the expertise of our energy services company, McKinstry Company, and their team, Schweitzer Engineering Labs, M&M Harrison, PCE Pacific, Siemens and Netversant.”
Additional information about WSU’s load shedding capabilities and participation in the Smart Grid Development Project is available online at
Terry Ryan, WSU Facility Operations Energy Management, 509-335-9352,
Rob Strenge, WSU News, 509-335-3583,