Monster Machines: This Gigantic 5MW Battery Can Power A Village

Wiring everyone up to a single power grid is all well and good -- until there's an outage. But what if we could mitigate outages by supplementing the one big grid with lots of smaller ones powered by renewable energy? The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project aims to find out.

The five-year, $US178 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project is a massive public-private partnership led by Batelle and involving 17 organisations, from energy companies to the University of Washington, across five US states -- Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The 60,000-customer pilot program acts as a testbed for cutting edge technologies designed to improve the region's energy reliability. Among the most promising of these new technologies is the recent installation of a 5 MW lithium-ion energy storage system (read: a very big battery).

Developed by Portland General Electric, the $US23-million-dollar system works just like the li-ion pack in your laptop except it powers a microgrid providing uninterupted power to 500 southeast Salem customers during outages for up to a half hour. The battery banks are located in the nondescript 8,000 square-foot facility in Southwest Salem, below. What's more, the system can also pull and store excess power generated by local renewable energy sources, like the 616-panel solar array on the roof of the Salem-based Kettle Chips factory.

This microgrid communicates with the larger power grid through a new system known as transactive control. As Geoffrey Harvey of the Pacific Northwest National Lab explains,

The energy storage system will respond to regional grid conditions with the help of a key aspect of the demonstration called transactive control. Transactive control is based on technology from DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is managed by Battelle. The technology helps power producers and users decide how much of the area’s power will be consumed, when and where. This is done when producers and users automatically respond to signals representing future power costs and planned energy consumption. The cost signals originate at Battelle’s Electricity Infrastructure Operations centre in Richland, Wash. They are updated every five minutes and sent to the project’s participating utilities, including PGE.

The automated signals allow project participants to make local decisions on how their piece of the smart grid project can support local and regional grid needs. Participants are now gathering data to measure how the signal can help deliver electricity more effectively, help better integrate wind power onto the power grid and more. The Salem battery will use the signal to coordinate its charge and discharge cycles with the power grid’s supply and demand.

"Two-way information exchange in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project allows grid operators to make the existing electric grid more efficient, while also exploring how using other technologies such as PGE's energy storage system, smart appliances and wind power can bolster the reliability of our system," Carl Imhoff, Battelle's Richland Electricity Infrastructure Market Sector manager, said in a press release.

This project will continue to run until 2015, at which point "Micro-grid islanding will be evaluated for its potential to enhance reliability for customers and relieve energy demand," according to the project's abstract. If they're deemed successful, the technology could be scaled up to ensure that even facing Hurricane Sandy levels of infrastructure destruction, the lights will stay on. [PNNL, PN News, Portland General Electric, Smart Grid, Battelle]

Pictures: PNNL