Portland General Electric announced July 15 it has officially launched the nation’s most ambitious smart grid pilot program.

The $5.9 million Smart Grid Test Bed is a ­demand-side resource program that will include more than 20,000 customers in Hillsboro, Portland and ­Milwaukie (CU No. 1875 [14]).

The program will help customers automate their smart devices—such as thermostats, water heaters, electric vehicle chargers and batteries—to work in concert with PGE as it operates the grid, the utility said in a prepared statement.

To accomplish this, PGE will use advanced c­ommunications capabilities and distribution system upgrades in the test cities, and equip the feeders and ­substations there with other smart grid technologies, such as new remote controls that increase system reliability and provide enhanced safety and cybersecurity.

During peak demand times, customers will be notified by email, phone or text to reduce or shift their energy use, and those that respond will get a rebate directly on their PGE bill. The utility expects to declare 10 to 20 of these events annually.

The reference case from PGE’s draft 2019 integrated resource plan shows the utility acquiring 190 MW, 202 MW and 211 MW from summer demand response programs in 2023, 2024 and 2025, respectively, and 129 MW, 136 MW and 141 MW of winter DR in 2023, 2024 and 2025, respectively (CU No. 1903 [12]).

The utility is also hoping the test bed will accelerate the development of distributed resources like customer-hosted rooftop solar and flexible resources like batteries; the draft IRP calls for acquiring dispatchable customer storage of 2.2 MW, 3 MW and 4 MW in 2024, 2025 and 2026, respectively.

The test bed also includes developing “electric ­avenues” in the cities of Milwaukie and Hillsboro that will feature multiple electric vehicle charging stations similar to those found at PGE’s original electric avenue in Portland.

“We’re using our Smart Grid Test Bed to deliver simple, seamless solutions and working with customers to drive carbon out of our system,” said Maria Pope, PGE president and CEO. “We’re determined to meet our shared climate and equity goals.”

The utility hopes the proposed two-and-a-half-year project will achieve at least 66 percent participation by eligible residential customers and between 25 and 40 percent from commercial customers. Typical demand response programs around the country achieve less than 7 percent participation rate, Portland General said (CU No. 1875 [14]).

PGE developed the pilot program with guidance from the Rocky Mountain Institute. It also relies on an advisory demand response review committee (DRRC), which the Oregon PUC directed PGE to form when it acknowledged its 2016 IRP.

Members of DRRC include the Energy Trust of ­Oregon, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oregon Citizens’ ­Utility Board, Oregon Department of Energy, Alliance of ­Western Energy Consumers, Northwest Power and ­Conservation Council staff, and OPUC staff.

“PGE’s leadership in reducing energy consumption aligns perfectly with our community’s sustainability goals,” Steve Callaway, mayor of Hillsboro, said in a prepared statement.

“This visionary project at the Roseway Substation serving the South Hillsboro neighborhood will also aid our Smart City strategy by leveraging innovation and ­technology for our daily lives,” Callaway said. “­Residents and businesses can make the most of smart thermostats, water heaters and appliances, rooftop solar energy generation, electric vehicles and energy storage.”