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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

J Thomas Ranken: Innovative energy project could generate jobs

J. Thomas Ranken

William Boeing incorporated the Boeing Airplane Co. in 1916. That moment sparked 100 years of Washington state leading the world in aviation innovation.

Multiple industries have experienced similar moments. In 1979, Bill Gates moved Microsoft from Albuquerque to Washington state. In 1984, Starbucks served its first Caffè Latte. In 1994, Jeff Bezos left New York to start Amazon.

Energy might well be the state’s next Boeing moment. Companies like Avista, Itron and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories have made significant strides in energy generation, transmission and efficiency over the past decade. Now, three research titans are working to advance the nexus where all three meet.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington State University and the University of Washington have partnered on a two-year demonstration project to pilot transactive energy management across three campus locations.

Buildings in Pullman, Richland and Seattle will communicate seamlessly to manage energy production and consumption 300 miles apart. High energy generation on one campus will be used to offset high energy demands on another. If energy generation is low, demand across multiple campuses can be decreased. Renewable energy generation and battery storage can be seamlessly integrated and optimized to make the best of any situation.

In Pullman, WSU is installing its first solar array, which will be integrated within its microgrid system and Pullman’s smart city test bed. In addition to shared demand response with PNNL and UW, study will be conducted to prove that renewable and storage resources as well as WSU campus power generation can be used to power critical city infrastructure during power outages to improve both resilience and disaster response.

In Richland, PNNL is developing network tools to connect the three campuses and enable communications and transactive controls. The lab is also deploying sensors to monitor operations, run diagnostics and improve building performance on each campus.

In Seattle, UW is deploying multiple smart devices to control energy generation from campus solar panels. A lithium-ion battery system will also be installed to increase power grid flexibility. The university’s data analytics experts will develop strategies to make each component responsive to energy needs on campus and off.

The transactive campus demonstration project is yet another milestone for Washington state. The Clean Energy Fund, matched by the U.S. Department of Energy, is funding the $4.5 million project. It is the first use of transactive energy controls at this scale, spanning multiple campuses across hundreds of miles. It is also the first to combine energy generation, renewables, battery storage and energy consumption. The result will improve energy generation and consumption across our state while improving grid intelligence, durability and disaster response. Insights gained from the project will inform grid modernization efforts across the U.S.

But what does that mean for Washington state residents? First and foremost, jobs. The CleanTech Alliance works with hundreds of emerging and established clean tech companies that are turning new technologies like those tested in the transactive campus demonstration into viable, thriving businesses across our state. These businesses translate directly into skilled, high-paying jobs to support our economy.

The project is also piloting technology that allows cities to better integrate and leverage intermittent renewable energy, create a smarter power grid and optimize energy efficiency programs. Simply put, that means cleaner energy sources, fewer power outages and cheaper energy costs for business and residential customers alike.

PNNL, WSU and UW are driving another Boeing moment for Washington state innovation. The transactive campus demonstration project is a monumental step forward. Our state, and our nation, will be better for the effort.

J. Thomas Ranken is president and CEO of CleanTech Alliance Washington.

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