IEEE-USA in Action

Oregon Section Reaches Out to Public on Green Electricity: The Green Electricity Challenge–Delivering Power with the Smart Grid

By Susan Federici

IEEE’s Oregon Section considers part of its responsibility to the communities where its members work and live to help the public outside of scientific and engineering circles understand the technologies that shape so much of contemporary life.  To step up to that responsibility, this year the Oregon Section decided to reach out to Oregon on a topic that is very important to its environmentally sensitive citizens– Green Electricity, and the coming Smart Grid.

This initiative took two parts.  The formal aspect to this project was the staging of a lecture and panel discussion on The Green Electricity Challenge-Delivering Power with the Smart Grid, at a prominent and very popular venue in downtown Portland on 4 Oct.  The informal, or grass roots part of this project, was the construction of a bicycle that generates electricity by magnetic induction–and uses it to light a display of 144 LEDs in the image of a map of Oregon, in green, with a heart, in red, in the center.

We recruited five speakers for the lecture and panel discussion: Larry Bekkedahl, vice-president of Engineering and Technical Services, from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that manages all of the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake River systems; Richard Springer, director of Regulatory Compliance in Government Relations for Vestas Americas, a wind turbine company prominent in Oregon; Chris Ashley, manager for Utility Solutions for EnerNOC, a private company involved in helping electric utility companies manage their power loads better; Jeff Harris, director for Emerging Technology for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit sponsored by a consortium of regional power companies to help consumers use energy more wisely; and Todd Graves, vice-president of Engineering for Clear Edge Power, a company that manufactures fuel cell powered electricity generators–making it possible for families to have their electricity off of the grid altogether.

Our thought was that representatives from these organizations would provide the public with background on why something like the Smart Grid is necessary in the future; what the prospects really are for alternative sources of electricity; and how to use different features of the Smart Grid to their own advantage.  The format for the evening was for each speaker to make a 20- 25 minute presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period giving the audience a chance to have their own concerns addressed.  Both the audience and the speakers themselves found the evening very satisfying.

For the grass roots part of this project, the bicycle was taken to two very popular Farmers’ Markets the week before the lecture for people to try it out for themselves.  The bicycle was such a hit at one of these Farmers’ Markets that we’ve been asked back again next year!  The night of the lecture, we placed and pedaled the bicycle in the lobby of the theater where we held the lecture.  Following the lecture, we telephones all seven of the Coalitions of Neighborhood Associations in Portland, representing 85 different neighborhood associations in the city, and offered to bring the bicycle brought to neighborhood association meetings–to give people a chance to learn more about how electricity is generated–and to see how many LEDs they could light up as they pedaled.

We are thankful to both the IEEE Foundation and The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in Oregon, for generously sponsoring our project.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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