Business & Tech
4:08 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

KCP&L's Big Battery Aims To Help Spark Midtown Resurgence

KCP&L’s new “Smartgrid Innovation Park” is parked between the back wall of a pretty downtrodden, urban core grocery store, and an old humming electric substation. 

A fancy new brick and wrought iron fence guards not a McMansion, but what looks like a semi-truck trailer on concrete pillars.

This little “park” is the nexus of a $50 million smart grid project, which is in turn part of the stimulus-funded Green Impact Zone initiative, which is meant to revitalize 150 blocks in the center of Kansas City.   

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver pulled the Green Zone initiative together, with lots of cooperation, he says, from the city and the business community. 

“I mean this is Kansas City, Missouri,” said Cleaver.   “We work together here, we build things together.   We are creative together.   And that’s what’s happening.”

Like the rest of the Green Impact Zone the new innovation park is east of Troost Avenue, which Cleaver says is helping to erase the street as a racial dividing line. 

But what is this “Smartgrid Innovation Park” really for?    Let’s start with the thing that looks like a semi-truck trailer. It’s a battery. Electricity needs to be available all the time, but it cannot be stored.  Unlike oil, or coal, or wood even, it can’t be stockpiled efficiently.  Terry Bassham the president and CEO of KCP&L says this big box here in the Smartgrid Innovation Park is a start.

"Look at the size of this battery… it’s brand new, it’s cutting edge technology, it’s the largest in the Midwest, and it’s one megawatt.   Now that one megawatt can serve about 400 homes for one hour," said Bassham.

To power all their customers, KCP&L would need 4,500 such batteries: Not practical. But this one will help take the edge off peaks in this neighborhood; the power company can draw it down when demand is surging, and then charge it up over night, when generating power is cheaper.    

The more important part of this complex may be in the little shack near the battery. Here, Ed Hedges manages this technology for KCP&L shows off a small room full of screens. A big one maps the neighborhood power grid, right down to the line leading into each individual house.

"This is like your iPad for the electric utility,” said Hedges. “It really compares your iPhone of today to your rotary dial phone, which is how we’ve operated the system in the past.”

He’s not kidding. Before, calling in a power outage was the one sure way of making sure the power company knew about it. With this setup, the company knows your power is out as soon as you do.  

“This system, when it’s fully implemented, will actually restore some of power automatically, before we can even send the crews out to do the work,” said Hedges.

The system can also help customers monitor and maximize their own power usage.

KCP&L wants this little “innovation park” here to show off this kind of technology. There’s a station to plug in and juice up electric vehicles, and solar panels. 

City leaders and neighborhood folks hope it will help spark the revitalization of a struggling section of Kansas City.