Getting Smarter

The Executive Director for Smart Grid Northwest answers a key question: What exactly IS smart grid? And he provides 5 great reasons why it matters to all of us.

For decades the Pacific Northwest has been a national and global model for comprehensive energy planning as well as effective energy conservation and clean energy resource development. The region is filled with early-adopters of energy-related products such as electric vehicles, distributed and utility scale renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.), home energy management systems, and is a birthplace of green buildings. Our region is growing a true clean and advanced energy ecosystem.

This summer, Smart Grid Oregon became Smart Grid Northwest. We hope to enhance a key pillar of these clean energy and advanced grid solutions. Three weeks ago we had our organization launch event in Portland featuring immediate past Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Jon Wellinghoff and recently appointed BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer. Just last week we had a great kick-off event in Redmond, Washington with Michael Atkinson, CEO of Alstom Grid North America sharing about the future of grid intelligence.  The two activities drew 200 of the leading energy and grid related experts from the region.


Rows of battery racks at Portland General Electric’s Salem Smart Power Center in Salem, Ore. PGE is a participant in the Battelle-led Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, which will use the center’s 5-megawatt energy storage system to test several smart grid technologies and approaches. Photo courtesy of Portland General Electric.

Our intent is to take the Northwest’s clean energy and efficiency advances and assets to the next level by weaving them all together with a smarter energy grid. But let's take a step back and start with some basics:

What exactly IS smart grid?


Image source: Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, vol. 454, pp570-573, copyright 2008.

In broad terms, smart grid is the application of various technologies such as advanced metering, communications, distribution and sub-station automation, controls software, and data analytics to the energy system.

Smart grid is about making our power systems leaner, cleaner and more democratic. It’s about giving consumers more actionable information while utilities continue to adapt to changing technologies and new models for creating and delivering energy.

Why you should care

Here are five great reasons why Smart Grid matters to all of us:

1) Jobs in a variety of sectors; the rise of a regional industry.

Smart Grid Northwest is dedicated to promoting the growth of the smart grid-related industry, as well as the development of smart grid solutions across the Pacific Northwest. That means good jobs and a better energy system for people across the region – at major regional companies like Alstom, Seattle City Light, Itron, and Portland General Electric and at growing smart grid related technology companies like PowerIT Solutions, Building Energy, The Cosmo Company, and SEEQ.

The US Department of Energy estimates that each dollar spent on smart grid efforts has an economic impact of at least another 1.5 additional dollars, so while the companies in the region also provide jobs, the installation of smart grid solutions has additional benefit to the regional economy.

2) Working together, we can have more control over our energy.

The smart grid enables the two-way flow of energy and information between grid operators and energy consumers. It empowers consumers to actively manage their energy use (and distributed energy assets). I personally was one of the early users of the Nest smart thermostat. When I replaced the gas furnace a few years back in my 1951 home, I wanted to have the ability to see my consumption behavior much more granularity and do things like adjust my settings and turn the system on/off remotely. I have really enjoyed the additional information that tool as provided me, and the continual reports on our usage remind me of the small things we can do to conserve.

3) We can integrate new resources and technologies as they come online.

A smarter grid lays the foundation for future main-stream technologies such as distributed renewables, electric vehicles, energy storage assets, and various internet-of-things solutions as various appliances intelligently communicate with the system. The smart grid brings additional functionality and understanding along the entire energy system – from major generation and transmission to the building and appliance level.

4) Affordable energy through efficiency at scale.

It is generally understood that the most affordable energy resource is the energy never used (or the kWh saved). With near real-time data, energy supply and demand are balanced more dynamically and optimally and various key players from energy users to utilities can be sure that affordable resources, like energy efficiency, are leveraged as much as possible and at the most important times.

5) In an era of climate consequences, we can establish a more resilient, reliable, sustainable grid. 

It’s not news to many: meeting the challenge of climate change means a concerted transition off of fossil fuels. The smart grid knits together various aspects of the renewable energy, energy efficiency and demand response programs to maximize local energy resources. As more carbon-free technologies enter the market for a variety of sectors, the smart grid will be there to adapt and incorporate these new resources.


As you can probably tell, we at Smart Grid Northwest are excited about the opportunities that lay ahead for the Northwest and hope to play our part in helping creating a smarter energy future. We will be convening a number of meetings and forums with a host of key stakeholders including utilities, smart grid-related technology companies, regulators, industry advocates and energy users. Please check out our new website and stay in touch -

Bryce Yonker's picture

Executive Director, Smart Grid Northwest

, Climate Solutions

Bryce Yonker, serves as the first executive director for Smart Grid Northwest. He heads up the strategic development, programs, and operations for the organization. Bryce was a Founder and original board member, membership chair, and governance committee chair for Smart Grid Oregon. Bryce also serves as the director of business development for Clean Edge, a leading clean tech market research and advisory firm. There he leads the strategy, business development, sales, marketing, and client services efforts.

Prior to Clean Edge Bryce was Vice President of business development for the Software Association of Oregon where he spearheaded many initiatives to support the software and technology industry, including serving as the founder of the Clean Technology Alliance. He holds a bachelor degree in business administration from Pepperdine University and an international MBA from IE in Spain. In his spare time, Bryce enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter and being in the NW outdoors most often with a fly-rod in hand.