Avista Corp. will lead a $38 million “smart-grid” demonstration project in Pullman that will upgrade the electric distribution system to the city of 27,600 people.
Smart grids make the distribution system more reliable and energy efficient, said Hugh Imhof, an Avista spokesman. If a car hits a power pole in the middle of the night, for example, switches on the smart grid can reroute the electrical flow within seconds, so that a minimum of homes and businesses lose power. “We don’t have to do it manually from the control tower,” he said.
In addition, the smart grid’s two-way communication will give Avista more detailed information about energy use and trends.
Fifteen hundred homes will also be outfitted with technology that allows customers to better track their energy use. If they forget to turn down the furnace thermostat when they leave for work, for instance, the customers can log onto a computer and remotely adjust the temperature controls.
Smart grids are also more flexible at incorporating renewable energy, such as electricity generated from solar panels and wind power.
Smart grids have become a buzzword in the utility industry, as companies look for ways boost efficiency and conserve energy. The Pullman demonstration project is part of a $178 million regional project in the Northwest.
Funding for the five-year Pullman project was announced on Tuesday. The federal government will contribute $19 million; Avista is chipping in $12.9 million; and other partners will contribute the remaining dollars. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Washington State University, Itron and Hewlett Packard are also involved in the smart grid demonstration.