PORTLAND, Oregon — With about 900,000 power customers in the greater Portland area, Portland General Electric (PGE) believes a grid that allows customers to sell back their electricity will become a reality in the near future.
The utility company's distribution system plan, recently submitted to the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, includes more renewable energy like wind and solar power and more reliance on customers to ultimately eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Ever since cities began to get electricity in the 1890s, it’s been a one way street: The power company sells it to customers. Soon, updated technology could allow customers to sell electricity back to PGE on a large scale when it is needed, said Brett Sims, the utility's vice president of strategy, regulation and energy supply.
“Really talking about now making that grid two way so that when customers produce additional energy with rooftop solar for example, or stored in a battery at their home or business, that we're able to draw upon that additional energy when the grid needs it the most — during the highest demand days- hot days or cold days,” Sims said.
By 2030, PGE hopes to get 25% of the extra power it needs on extremely hot or cold days, from its customers.
“We're really talking about roof top solar, we're talking about batteries, we're talking about electric vehicles, we're talking about smart appliances like thermostats and water heaters,” he said.
Modernizing the grid so the power company could tap into an electric car's battery, for example, will take years and likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
But it’s part of the future PGE has in mind.
It will also take a big expansion on the customer side. For example 13,500 homes or buildings have solar panels out of PGE's 900,000 customers. Solar power is a small but growing energy source.
One value of a two-way grid is it would cut down on the amount of new electricity the company would have to make.
That would help PGE cut greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels by 80% compared to 2010 over the next nine years and 100% by 2040. PGE was required to submit a plan to meet those goals under the clean energy bill signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown over the summer.
It’s unclear what this will mean for natural gas plants, including some owned by the utility.
Some outside experts have said natural gas plants are a critical part of the power supply since they can be fired up at a moment’s notice and provide dependable energy as opposed to wind or solar.
And then there is coal.
Two years ago, PGE shut down its coal fired plant in Boardman, Ore. Four years from now, it hopes to get out of its ownership stake in two other coal plants in Montana.
“There are lots of options which could include PGE exiting but also could include some arrangement to close one or both units some point in time,” said Sims.
To see PGE's detailed plan, click here.
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