Going green: How AGI is changing the power grid

Grand Coulee Dam

The world is quickly starting to shift towards a carbon-neutral future, which makes the need for green and sustainable resources crucially important. 

The United States is broken up into three power grids: Eastern, Western and Texas. The Eastern power grid is the largest grid in the world, according to Washington State University Professor Mani Venkatasubramanian

Professor Venkatasubramanian is a joint appointee with PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), directly affiliated with AGI (Advanced Grid Institute). Professor Venkatasubramanian teaches several classes at WSU (Washington State University), such as performance of power systems, which is a senior elective class, and power systems stability and control, which is a graduate level class. 

Hydro, wind and solar are three of the most prevalent renewable resources that we have, and Professor Venkatasubramanian says that hydro is one of the best. 

“Water is flowing all the time, we can adjust how much water is flowing through the turbine to adjust to generation capacity,” Professor Venkatasubramanian said.  

Wind and solar both have downfalls, wind speeds can change constantly, making the amount of wind-generated electricity uncertain. 

“[With] solar, the challenge is different. Typically, its [steadier] excepting it may become cloudy and generation from the solar plant might go down,” says Professor Venkatasubramanian, “and then again, we only get power for half a day. That introduces some challenges.” 

While hydro is efficient, it has downfalls as well. 

“To build any new hydro resources, first it’s very expensive and we don’t have many good choices in terms of where we can build them,” Professor Venkatasubramanian says. “In winter, we don’t have as much water flow compared to summer, so there has to be some adjustments.” 

The Grand Coulee Dam, located northwest of Spokane, is one of the biggest power-generating dams in the world. 

“We have other big dams too, like John Day and Chief Joseph, which are also big power plants that help keep electricity costs low in our region,” Professor Venkatasubramanian.  

While hydro has the capacity to generate a lot of power, it is important to have multiple power-generating resources.  

“That is why it’s important to build a portfolio of generation that can meet the growing energy demands. The concern is the power grid is going to have to meet the new demands from electrification of transportation because now many states including Washington have a mandate that we cannot buy gas-powered cars in Washington,” says Professor Venkatasubramanian. 

The future demands and regulations of how we use power and how power can be generated present a challenge. 

“The challenge is going to be how we can meet the future demands, we are okay for today but if you think about changing all of the cars to electric cars, it [will] require so much more generation and the manufacturing industry and commercial heating and buildings would have to become carbon free… it would increase the need on the power grid by several factors, and whether we can meet all of that”