Energy Efficiency

Seattle City Light To Work On Project Focused On Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings

Washington State public power utility Seattle City Light will work with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the utility’s affordable housing provider partner, Community Roots Housing, to transform multifamily buildings in multifamily disadvantaged communities into grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).


In October 2021, the DOE awarded $61 million from its Connected Communities funding opportunity announcement for 10 projects that will demonstrate how energy efficient and grid-interactive technologies can transform homes and workplaces into connected communities.

DOE notes that America’s 129 million buildings use 40% of the nation’s energy and 75% of its electricity, which contributes to 35% of the nation’s annual carbon emissions.

As renewable power joins the grid at a record pace and buildings become more energy efficient, those emissions fall, but the variability of renewable power requires grid operators to employ new approaches to manage balancing electricity demand with variable renewable supply, DOE said.

It said that connected communities of grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) integrate with distributed energy resources and leverage the greatest advancements in digital communications and building science by using smart controls, sensors, and analytics to “talk” to the grid, one another, and almost everything else that plugs into them.

Through advanced analytics, the comfort and needs of building occupants can be optimized while supporting grid needs so the amount of energy buildings require during the costliest periods of peak energy demand is reduced. This lowers utility bills and reduces grid system costs, DOE said.

Seattle City Light Will Work With EPRI, Affordable Housing Partner

Seattle City Light will be working with EPRI and its affordable housing provider partner, Community Roots Housing, to select buildings for the Connected Community demonstration. 

A variety of filters will be used in the selection process including building type, ownership, occupancy, housing-provider priorities, local grid and service characteristics, and others, noted Nathan MacDonald, senior public relations specialist at the Washington State public power utility.

“Internally we will be working with our Utility Technology, IT/OT, operations and planning staff to select an appropriate platform to use for DER interconnection and to determine use cases that we want to test.  We will also be coordinating with our program delivery staff for customer outreach and to provide incentives for eligible efficiency upgrades.” 

The first demonstration building will be operational by 2023, the second year of the grant. Performance data will be gathered and used in an energy model to determine the grid impact/benefit if the retrofit package were to be scaled across Seattle City Light’s service area. Based on these results, additional buildings will be selected for retrofit and final measurements and data will be collected to determine impact on the grid as well as the customer. “We will use the information collected and the evaluation results to develop future customer-facing utility programs as well as design of workforce development training, customer education and tech transfer,” MacDonald said.

“This will be a very holistic effort involving virtually all parts of the utility,” he said.

Next Steps

“Our very first next steps are to coordinate with EPRI and Community Roots Housing, the affordable housing provider associated with this proposal, to jointly determine the most appropriate buildings for the demonstration, both in terms of benefits to the occupants, the building owner and to the utility,” MacDonald noted. “The next level of benefit would be the learnings we can obtain for the buildings and selected technologies.”

Seattle City Light is also organizing internally to build a robust team to support this project in all the aspects, including customer support, cybersecurity, operations, planning, program design, data science and more. “A solid, engaged team is necessary for successfully completing this project and so far, everyone is excited to be part of this effort,” he noted.

The DOE grant has a five-year timeline, so the work will be completed by then. “However, we expect the first demonstration building to be operational by 2023, and further retrofits by 2025.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, Seattle City Light worked with Pacific Northwest National Labs and “embarked on an exercise we termed ‘Utility Next’ to develop 30% concept proposals in a wide range of topic areas to prepare for Federal and State stimulus money that could potentially be released to aid in economic recovery from the pandemic,” MacDonald noted. 

These topics ranged from EV charging to large scale solar, mobile power and fleet and building electrification.  Non-wires solutions and grid-interactive buildings was one of the topics included in this exercise and provided a solid base and head when the DOE Connected Communities grant was announced.  

“We were able to build on the work and thought process accomplished during the Utility Next program to start developing proposals for the grant application. Even prior to this Utility Next effort City Light has been interested in and worked with regional leaders to explore load-flexibility and grid-interactivity to most efficiently utilize grid assets as buildings and transportation are electrified,” MacDonald said.

Seattle City Light participated as an active stakeholder and partner in five separate proposals that were submitted for the DOE Connected Communities grant. “All the proposals were great projects and we would have been happy for any of them to win. That said, we are delighted to be working with EPRI on this proposal that prioritizes benefiting low-income housing and reducing the energy burden for disadvantaged populations, while also helping the utility explore non-wires solutions that can keep the cost of power low for all of our customers.”

Details on the other connected communities projects that received DOE funding are available here.