Contrary to popular belief, Cougars and Huskies work well together. The Clean Energy Fund smart grid research collaboration is a prime example of how our joint efforts, along with efforts from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and private industry, better the prospects for our students and our state.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a $40 million Clean Energy Fund to improve energy innovation and support a robust clean energy economy. The fund included $15 million for four utility-scale smart grid demonstration projects. Avista received $3.2 million to test a utility-scale battery in Pullman that was developed by UniEnergy Technologies and located at Schweitzer Engineering Labs. Puget Sound Energy received $3.8 million to deploy a utility-scale battery in Glacier; and Snohomish PUD received $7.3 million for two demonstration projects with multiple Washington technology companies.
To validate the success of these demonstration projects, Washington State University and the University of Washington are collaborating on research and analysis in partnership with PNNL and other institutions. The effort analyzes user case scenarios to ensure long-term benefits and widespread replication. Together, the team is creating clean energy test beds that reduce costs and improve our state’s energy infrastructure. University participation is helping to maximize lessons-learned and to train the next generation of energy leaders— our students.
There is a global race to deploy smart grid and battery technologies that allow for better use of wind, solar and other intermittent renewable energy technologies. The batteries collect and store energy when wind and solar energy are abundant, and then distribute that energy whenever needed — regardless of weather conditions and time of day. Batteries also provide backup energy when transmission lines are down, improving energy reliability.
Being the first to deploy new technologies can be difficult to justify. The Legislature took a big step in the right direction by supporting the Clean Energy Fund and investing in our future. In addition to important economic benefits, students working in tandem with researchers and companies are learning just what it means to be part of the energy economy in our state.
Clean Energy Fund projects are attracting private industry to our state, boosting our economy and creating job opportunities. A Clean Energy Fund extension is now being considered by the Legislature as part of the 2015 capital budget. That $60 million extension, as proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, would build upon the initial fund’s success and further strengthen our universities, our energy infrastructure and our economy.
If we want our students to be leading innovative energy companies in two decades, we need to get them exposure to research and technology via the Clean Energy Fund today.