Vulnerable Oregon Coast Studied for Resiliency through Microgrids

The Oregon coast could see increased resiliency through microgrids, given that it’s expected to be the site of a devastating earthquake in the future.

Resiliency Through Microgrids

Salem Smart Power Center

What’s more, the area experiences outages due to big storms and winds–storms that are only expected to get stronger with global warming, said Adam Schultz, senior policy analyst at the Oregon Department of Energy.

To help the area study ways to use distributed energy and storage to boost resiliency, the National Governors Association has selected the Oregon Department of Energy and Central Lincoln People’s Utility District to take part in the Policy Academy on Grid Modernization hosted by the NGA Center for Best Practices Environment, Energy, and Transportation Division.

While there is no funding associated with the award, the Oregon DOE and public utility district will have access to 16 months of technical assistance. The team expects that what they learn can be applied to other public utility districts, which is important, given that a third of Oregon’s power comes from PUDs.

“A lot of the national work done focuses on investor-owned utilities, but a third of our state is consumer owned and that’s true nationally,” Schultz said. There are some benefits for consumer-owned utilities interested in addressing resiliency, he noted. They’re more self-regulated and can be more innovative and nimble. On the other hand, they don’t have a lot of capital or guidance from the the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

“This will help us identify challenges in the public power sector. We’ll work with the experts on challenges and a policy roadmap for the public power sector,” said Schultz.

Schultz is especially interested in studying how a microgrid could provide power to critical resources during outages. “I’m interested in critical centers–police, hospital and communications centers and supporting critical loads,” he said.

The DOE isn’t focusing on a specific distributed energy resource to pair with storage, he noted.

“Our plan is to be technology agnostic. We’re looking to see if there are policies that can advance this. We’re looking at business models and financing. We hope to pave the path down the road,” said Schultz.

While solar resources aren’t great on the coast, even a poorly performing solar system might be valuable during an emergency. Wind resources and renewable combined heat & power could play an important role, said Schultz. And energy from ocean waves could be important: Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center recently was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a wave energy test facility in Newport.

When ODOE and Central Lincoln PUD applied for the technical help, they proposed developing an action plan specific to consumer-owned utilities in Oregon, said a press release from the ODOE. The goal is to develop best practices for boosting power system resiliency and reliability, and increasing the amount of renewable energy on the grid. The project will also look at best practices for evaluating the benefits and barriers to investing in grid modernization technologies, said the press release.

Oregon was one of the first states in the nation to enact an energy storage law. Its law requires investor-owned utilities Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp, to acquire a small amount–at least 5 MWh–of energy storage by Jan. 1, 2020, said Schultz.

Meanwhile, the Eugene Water & Electric Board in Eugene, Ore. was awarded $295,000 in state and federal funding to look at solar-plus-storage’s ability to improve community resiliency. And PGE created the Smart Power Center in Salem, which includes a 5-MW lithium-ion battery and inverter system that can store 1.25 megawatt-hours of energy as part of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.

The Smart Power Center demonstration ended in mid-2015, but the center provides backup power and ongoing research.

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