By UW Sustainability | Aug 25, 2016

solor panelsThe University of Washington is installing solar panels on three residence halls in partnership with Seattle City Light's Green Up program to support research on clean energy and smart grid technology.

"This project will put our students in the middle of a quiet revolution, the digitization of energy," said UW Clean Energy Institute Director Daniel Schwartz. "Setting up a major new testbed facility takes vision and partners, so we truly appreciate the way local industry, the state, and federal funders came together to support the UW team."

Seattle City Light's Green Up program is contributing $225,000 toward the purchase of the solar panels. This contribution enabled the UW to compete for the Washington State Department of Commerce Solar Grant Program, which is also giving $225,000 in matching funds.

The panels will be placed on Elm, Alder and Maple halls this fall, and the combined installation will act as a testbed for research on how solar energy can be combined with other demand-side resources such as battery systems, in order to provide controllable power and voltage support. In addition to the solar panels, the project will include advanced meters, communications equipment, a battery system and control center.

The student group UW Solar has been involved from the beginning, working closely with UW staff and faculty to analyze the buildings for viability, drawing up necessary plans, selecting appropriate technology, writing up requests for proposals and identifying the most competitive bid.

"An exciting aspect of this project, in addition to the number of people who helped make it happen, is the number of people who benefit from it," said Marilyn Ostergren, UW's renewable energy liaison. "Students gain experience they can use to promote solar installations elsewhere, faculty further their research into integrating renewable energy into the grid, and Housing & Food Services get the power.”

The solar panels are estimated to generate about 100,000 kWh per year. Once it is operational in the fall of 2016, the "control center" will give undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to observe and analyze the energy consumption of campus buildings and how the solar production affects the profile of the overall campus demand.

“Seattle City Light is excited to partner with the UW and the State of Washington on this innovative project, which utilizes solar energy to augment the utility’s clean energy supply, provides 'learn by doing' educational opportunities for students, and enables the UW to further its cutting-edge  grid management research that will be shared with the utility and the region," said Craig Smith, Director of Seattle City Light’s Customer Energy Solutions Division.

Another $115,000 for the project's smart inverters will be provided from another grant from the US Department of Energy and WA Department of Commerce. This grant supports a large joint research project by the UW, Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on transactive energy campuses, which create communication and coordinated control links among these campuses.  These links could be used to provide local or regional operating support to the power grid.

Once the solar installations are in place, UW Solar will oversee the data collection. Housing and Food Services and UW Facility Services will be responsible for system maintenance while Dr. Miguel Ortega-Vazquez of the Department of Electrical Engineering will lead the research.

"This testbed will help not only to offset the energy requirements at the University of Washington, but it will also enable opportunities to operate the campus in a smart manner, enhancing power quality and grid reliability," said Ortega-Vazquez. "This is a new paradigm in power system operation, in which the demand-side is taking a more active role in power system management. Furthermore, it will also unlock new opportunities for applied cutting-edge research, as well as opportunities for students to directly interact with onsite renewable energy sources and smart grid technologies."

This is an extension of the UW's existing Green Up Program partnership with Seattle City Light, which has provided funding for renewable energy work at UW, allowing the university to develop renewable energy projects, produce educational outreach materials and create opportunities for faculty and student collaboration. The University of Washington is the single largest participant of the Green Up program.

About Green Up
Green Up is Seattle City Light's voluntary green power program for residential and business customers. By enrolling in Green Up, customers demonstrate their support for wind power and other new renewable energy projects in the Northwest. Seattle City Light purchases Green-E Certified renewable energy credits (RECs) on participants’ behalf.  In addition, Seattle City Light invests in local education and renewable energy projects through direct grants to community non-profits, schools and public institutions.

About Seattle City Light
Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 1 million Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.