Idaho Falls Power successfully conducts ‘microgrid’ experiment with INL
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IDAHO FALLS — An experiment testing Idaho Falls’ preparedness during an emergency blackout showed promising results Thursday.
Idaho Falls Power and Idaho National Laboratory teamed up to test the utility’s hydroelectric power plants in a mock emergency situation. During the experiment, the Idaho Falls hydro plants were disconnected from the larger regional power grid to see if they could create an independent, self-sustaining “microgrid” to power Idaho Falls if the regional grid ever went down due to an emergency.
Idaho Falls Power currently owns and operates five different power stations along the Snake River. Those stations generate approximately 20% to 40% of the total power needs for IFP customers, based on water flows in the river, time of year, peak demand and other factors. The rest of the energy comes from the outside power grid.
The goal of this test is to produce about 20% of the city’s normal electrical usage to operate hospitals, emergency evacuation centers, police and fire departments and other essential venues during a power outage or emergency situation.
During this test, the INL provided a large capacitor paired with a special control system to help stabilize the generator output. In previous tests, the ability to generate power became unstable after the generator was loaded to 25% of its capacity. In this test, IFP will simulate a “black start,” or an emergency situation where there is no regional grid power. It will involve activating the Lower and Old Lower Power Plants, along with the City Plant.
On Thursday, the test proved to be a success, with the hydro plants generating enough power to serve as a backup microgrid for Idaho Falls.
“This is a giant science experiment for us that will help Idaho Falls move one step closer to being able to provide emergency power resources on our own system without having to rely on larger grid power outside of the city,” Idaho Falls Power General Manager Bear Prairie said. “We’re really grateful to INL for their collaboration and expertise in this innovative, first of kind concept event proving that a hydro-based microgrid is possible.”
INL and IFP can now use the data gathered to help other power institutions in the United States and around the world.
Mayor Rebecca Casper was pleased with the outcome of the test. She said one of her favorite things about the project was the collaboration with INL.
“Whenever we can take advantage of being next-door neighbors with one of the world’s leading research institutions, we need to count ourselves lucky,” Casper said.