The light bulb burns bright in Los Alamos

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By Kirsten Laskey

A great idea is often symbolized with a light bulb. In Los Alamos, that light bulb radiates a whole new light; in fact, it seems to have a green tint.
The Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities was awarded the 2010 Energy Leadership Award from the New Mexico Association of Energy Engineers (NMAEE) Tuesday in Albuquerque. The award was in recognition of DPU Manager John Arrowsmith’s efforts in the Los Alamos Smart Grid demonstration project.
Arrowsmith could not attend the award ceremony so James Alarid, DPU deputy utilities manager for engineering, accepted the award. The award recognizes that the Smart Grid project is becoming a reality and he said Arrowsmith is a major player is achieving this fact. Arrowsmith has worked extensively with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), the county’s partner in the project.
A total of six projects were honored during the award ceremony but what makes Los Alamos’ Smart Grid shine is that it is one of the first projects of its kind to actually get implemented, Alarid said.
Don Swick of the NMAEE said Jack McGowan, president of the New Mexico chapter of the AEE, nominated Los Alamos for the award.
He explained McGowan was the first president of an organization called Grid Wise, which was established by the Department of Energy and other utility agencies. McGowan also serves as a technical advisor for the New Mexico Green Grid.
Last year, Tom Bowles, science advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson and the leader in the New Mexico Green Grid Initiative, was a recipient of NMAEE’s leadership award. However, he was unable to accept the award because he and Arrowsmith were in Japan talking with NEDO about the Smart Grid project in Los Alamos.
So McGowan knew what was going on in the process. Swick said New Mexico has been very active in seeking money from the federal government for Smart Grids. When funding fell short for other projects in the U.S., the Los Alamos Smart Grid kept trudging forward.
When Bowles presented the award to the DPU Tuesday, Swick said he acknowledged the mentality the department had to keep the process going even when funding fell through. It was a leadership quality that Bowles saw in the department.
“I think we’re very proud of the reward,” Alarid said. “It was clear among the professionals at the banquet that we are a major contributor to the effort – the movement that is happening around the country.”
He said that the department’s determination to implement the project is one of the reasons they were successful.
“The county is going to make a big contribution by allowing our electric distribution to receive this … we have the site for the photovoltaics – the abandoned landfill – and I think it is the very proactive approach the DPU is taking to implement the Smart Grid. It’s a very new thing … it’s up and coming and we’re taking a plunge to implement it.”
Allison Majure of the DPU said the project also has the community’s support.
She said when the department surveyed ratepayers, they commented that there is a preference for looking into new forms of renewable energy. This follows the philosophy of the AEE.
Swick said, “We promote the proper use, development and conservation of multiple forms of energy.”
The Smart Grid delves into different types of energy and also offers benefits to the community.
“We will immediately increase our renewable energy portfolio,” Alarid said.
He said that in four or five years, Los Alamos will fully own the Smart Grid. Owning the production facility means the county can produce electricity more cheaply than purchasing electricity in the market.
Currently, the DPU staff is working with NEDO in New Mexico and coordinating the endeavor, Alarid said. The design effort will be undertaken in the upcoming months while the construction of the system will occur next summer.
The Smart Grid will feature a two-megawatt photovoltaic solar array at the former landfill on East Jemez Road including a large battery storage system and a demonstration home with smart meters and smart appliances.
Alarid said the photovoltaic array will take in sunlight, convert it to electricity and pass the electricity onto the customer.
Through the demonstration project, data will be collected for further advances of the system’s efficiency.

Kirsten Laskey can be reached at lareporter@