Smart Grid projects touted in Japan

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County > Staff uses conference as a promotion for Los Alamos

By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith was one of a slate of speakers from around the world at the Smart Community Japan 2013 convention last month.


The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) sponsored the conference to spotlight its worldwide successes in developing Smart technologies.

Arrowsmith was invited to speak about the Los Alamos Smart Grid project. Hideki Hayashi, general manager of Toshiba Corporation’s Smart Grid Technology, Transmission & Distribution Systems Division, also spoke about the technical results that have come out of the demonstration project.

“The Japanese government is leading in environmental technology research and development, and they love Los Alamos County. They really appreciate the work that John Arrowsmith and the county have done and the ability of Los Alamos County to get things done,” said Economic Vitality Administrator Greg Fisher, who also attended the conference. “They feel that DPU is a can-do organization and has done a good job in helping to test out their technologies.”

That good standing with NEDO may help Arrowsmith and Fisher meet one of their goals in attending the conference: recruiting future projects to Los Alamos. The Smart Grid project expires in March 2014.

Arrowsmith is hoping the opportunity to continue cutting edge research will attract more investment. He has also offered to help increase the partners’ visibility by sending staff to industry conferences such as DistribuTECH to speak about the success of the Smart Grid project. The possibility of doing research with Los Alamos National Laboratory is another selling point for the county.

Fisher and Deputy Utility Manager–Power Supply Steve Cummins (who provided technical expertise) met with Toshiba, Kyocera, NEC and Sharp–all companies involved with the project–to present ideas for continued research using the Smart Grid infrastructure. Flight delays kept Arrowsmith from attending most of the meetings, but he was able to join Fisher and Cummins for a meeting with Hitachi.

Toshiba expressed a definite interest and asked for a prioritized list of projects.

High on Cummins’ priorities is convincing Toshiba to help outfit all new county structures with Building Management Systems (BMS) to study how power usage can be optimized through interaction between Toshiba’s Micro EMS (energy management system)–the brains of the Smart technology system–BMS units and the Smart Grid.

BMS units would allow heating and cooling systems to respond instantly to changes in photovoltaic grid output through signals from the EMS.

Output at PV arrays can drop dramatically if a cloud comes over. Every building in the county with a BMS unit could immediately shut off air conditioning until the cloud passes, keeping the county within its scheduled energy supply for that day.

When greater finesse is needed, such as during times of peak power usage when rates skyrocket, BMS equipped buildings could be programmed for a type of rolling blackout, where a cooling system shuts down for a half hour stretch then resumes as another building shuts down.

“The idea is that it would not be perceptible to the people in the buildings,” Arrowsmith said.

Such a system would also make it possible to successfully add more renewable energy to the county’s mix.
The team talked to Hitachi Corporation about another possible project: using their battery system to provide the county’s “spinning reserves.”

Spinning reserves are the amount of generating capacity the county must hold in reserve so if one of the generating units in the supply network goes down, the spinning reserve can come online immediately to fill the gap.

The types of batteries Hitachi is making have the capacity to supply that additional power instantly. However, such a project faces one major hurdle that was addressed by Paddy Turnbull, chair of the Global Smart Grid Federation, during the conference: regulation is not keeping pace with technological advancements.

The regulatory agencies that oversee power production are resisting incorporating battery storage into the backup system because they do not literally meet the definition of “spinning” reserves.

“OK, we’ll put the battery on a turntable to make it go round and round,” Cummins quipped.

One of the conference presentations Arrowsmith found most interesting was by Leon R. Roose, faculty specialist at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, University of Hawaii. Arrowsmith learned that Hawaii’s electric rates are four to five times higher than Los Alamos’ and the islands are using 40 percent renewable energy because the cost of importing oil is so high.

“So Hawaii is dealing with the issues that we’re going to be facing in the future, where we have some real variable sources of power that have to be backed up with some other kind of generation,” Arrowsmith said.

Fisher believes Los Alamos can reap economic benefit by being at the forefront of those changes. NEDO has already invested $30 million in Los Alamos: 10 percent of its worldwide investment.

“NEDO is testing Smart Community technology–Smart Grid, Smart storage, and energy management systems,” Fisher said. “Eventually this is going to transform the way the world operates and uses electricity. Japan is just one of the world’s leaders in researching the technology. Participants came from all over the world, and Los Alamos County is one of the most successful projects.

“So we have a really good opportunity to work together with the Japanese. The world is an international place, and much of the global investment is from countries like Japan, so it’s a good opportunity for us to get involved in international trade development.”