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Energy Smart Utility Efficiency

Distribution systems are stressed by an aging infrastructure and increased demands for power. Electricity distribution companies are under pressure to improve reliability and system performance, while dealing with the ongoing challenges of this aging infrastructure and increasing customer demands for higher reliability and power quality. BPA offers several distribution-level efficiency improvement measures through the BPA Energy Smart Utility Efficiency program, including reimbursements for high-efficiency transformer replacement, load balancing, reconductoring and voltage optimization.

Voltage optimization is a known energy efficiency measure that has proven to be a very cost-effective to increase end-use energy efficiency, reduce distribution system losses, provide higher system reliability and improve power quality. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council's draft Sixth Power Plan lists a regional distribution system energy savings conservation target of more than 400 aMW, with public power's contribution at more than 200 aMW over the next 20 years. The anticipated energy savings will come from a combination of distribution system efficiency improvements and voltage optimization, historically known as conservation voltage regulation.


Although utilities have been experimenting with conservation voltage regulation for more than 30 years it has not been widely adopted due to perceived high costs, negative customer impacts and the complexity of its design and operation implementation. In addition, the measurement and verification process to quantify benefits is not complete or widely understood. In May 2010, the Regional Technical Forum approved the Simplified VO M&V Protocols designed to increase utility participation in voltage optimization by reducing M&V requirements.

In December of 2007, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance released its final report on the Distribution Efficiency Initiative study. The lead consultant in developing the study was R.W. Beck, Inc. of Seattle. The objective of the Distribution Efficiency Initiative study was to support and encourage market transformation of distribution efficiency improvements through the use of simplified cost-effective measures (including voltage optimization). The study documented and demonstrated various voltage optimization methods with the participation of 13 Northwest electric utilities on 31 distribution feeders with more than 30,000 customers.

The final DEI study provides technical results of field distribution efficiency demonstrations. The results conclusively showed that operating a utility distribution system in the lower half of the customer's acceptable American National Standards Institute voltage range saves energy, reduces demand, reduces system losses and reduces reactive power requirements without negatively impacting the customer.

How BPA helps utilities with distribution-level efficiency

The BPA Energy Smart Utility Efficiency Program is described in the Implementation Manual under the industrial sector (page 49 in the October 2009 manual). Although distribution efficiency measures are included the Industrial Sector, utilities are not required to participate in the Energy Smart Industrial program in order to participate in the utility efficiency offer. The distribution efficiency measures identified in the manual qualify for the industrial reimbursement rate of $0.25/kWh, capped at 70% of the total project cost. Progress payments may be available for qualifying projects. General custom project process requirements apply with one exception: equipment in stock may be used if accepted as part of a custom project proposal as long as the customer can document equipment was installed after BPA acceptance of the custom project proposal.

Contact Information

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