The U.S. Department of Energy has named two executives in key roles at Bonneville Power Administration where they could usher in a new focus on energy efficiency and demand response.
“My path for BPA has us investing in hydro and transmission, but also in technology that lets us reach out and grab resources that are sitting in your homes and businesses,” says Bill Drummond, Bonneville’s new top executive.
In February 2013 Mr. Drummond was sworn in as Administrator of Bonneville Power Administration, the United States government agency that markets the hydropower from 31 federal dams in the Pacific Northwest. Publicly-owned utilities and a few large industries buy Bonneville’s power; utilities resell it to homes, businesses and other consumers.
As one of four Power Marketing Administrations operated across the country by the U.S. Department of Energy, Bonneville influences the trends and technologies that will affect customers of the nation’s small and midsized electric utilities.
Drummond’s reference to “grabbing resources” from homes and businesses means Bonneville will place more emphasis on demand response programs. The agency has experimented with this technique, which temporarily reduces some electric loads to manage periods of highest demand, as well as to balance the power grid.
BONNEVILLE IS EMPHASIZING a tighter integration between demand response and energy efficiency, an effort that is headed by a new Vice President of Energy Efficiency, Richard Génecé. That makes Energy Efficiency part of the Power Services group responsible for generating power. Mr. Génecé believes that’s a significant shift.
“Energy efficiency is a resource, just like any other energy resource,” Génecé says. He believes the new emphasis will reframe how Bonneville thinks about energy efficiency. “If I had a magic wand, I’d call our department ‘integrated demand-side management,’ rather than just ‘energy efficiency,’” he says.
Bonneville is fielding ideas from its utility partners about just how demand response becomes an integral part of energy efficiency. Current initiatives for demand response will evolve to encompass efficiency. Says Mr. Génecé: “My vision for the future is for everyone on the Energy Efficiency team to be thinking about demand response, and vice versa.”
DEMAND RESPONSE, with the large-scale, reliable load reductions it provides, is a promise of the smart grid. To deliver hydropower to Northwest utilities, Bonneville operates 15,239 miles of transmission lines and 261 substations, many of which are upwards of 40 years old.
Demand response has a role in smoothing out the power supply, Drummond says: “Simple building load controls, like adjusting thermostats by a few degrees for a few hours, if done citywide, would avoid the need for a utility to build a new power plant.”
Drummond spells out a clear choice for the agency in the coming five years: Either continue investing only in maintaining those aging power systems, or invest in new technologies that address challenges those power systems didn’t foresee. Challenges like balancing large amounts of wind energy on the power grid.
When Bonneville’s dams on the Columbia River were first built in the 1930s and 1940s, its goals were to electrify rural communities, and to ensure irrigation and flood control for the region. As the Northwest grew, turbines would provide extra electricity to supplement baseload coal-fired power plants. Today, Drummond says, intermittent sources such as wind and solar power are displacing coal generation.
Intermittency causes baseload generators to operate their resources in ways never envisioned. Hydro, which now provides about a third of the day-to-day electricity needs for the region, is a baseload generator.
Bonneville is part of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, half funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars from the Department of Energy. The agency is also leading several demand response pilot projects. Both explore how grid technologies could control costs and improve reliability.
Even though demand response has been successfully deployed in some regions, its Big Brother aspect makes it a controversial topic when introduced to new utility territories. Bonneville routinely finds itself at the center of contentious issues ranging from tribal salmon fisheries to international treaties. At a small reception in Seattle Drummond quipped, “My swearing-in was just a few weeks ago, and the swearing-at has already begun.”
Mr. Drummond served as Bonneville’s Deputy Administrator from October 2011 to February 2013; he succeeds Steve Wright as Administrator.