Welcome to Smart Grid City, Colorado

  Boulder, Colo., is known for a lot of things, including the University of Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and a distinctive hippie-progressive-outdoorsy vibe. And now, it’s about to get the nation’s first fully-integrated “smart grid.”

A smart grid is exactly what it sounds like: an “intelligent” power grid that uses broadband technology to better manage multiple sources of electricity and increase energy efficiency. In August, Xcel plans to start installing the new smart grid with its 50,000 “smart meters” that will serve about 100,000 residents. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy picked Boulder for the pilot because the Front Range city is medium-sized and environmentally conscious. It also offers research institutions like the University of Colorado and the National Bureau of Standards and Technology, which is already involved in smart-grid research for the federal government.

Kara Mertz, assistant to the city manager in Boulder, explains that the smart grid will employ a fiber-optic loop around the city. That network will allow communication between households, the utility company and the grid about the amount and source of power in use. The system can also regulate itself. If there’s a power overload in one part of the grid, for example, it will automatically route power through different lines to prevent a shutdown. In addition, a smart grid allows a consumer to choose the power sources she wants to use – wind, solar, or coal.

The system will help consumers make more energy-efficient choices and utilize more renewable energy resources, says Ethnie Groves, spokeswoman for Xcel. “If consumers can see what their households are using on a daily basis, they’ll be better able to track their own usage and figure out ways to save money or be more efficient,” she says.

Smart meters allow consumers to adjust their home power usage automatically. “Basically,” Mertz says, “if you have a ‘smart’ appliance or a little conversion box on your outlet to work with older appliances, the smart grid can talk directly to those appliances … you can turn your dishwasher on from a distance so it runs during non-peak hours, for example.” In addition, says Mertz, the system can store power in battery stations around the city, from which consumers can draw during non-peak hours, and customers “can put power back into the grid from (their) own solar panels.”

Smart-grid technologies have been employed in other U.S. cities. In 2005, CenterPoint Energy in Houston installed 10,000 smart meters in customers’ houses. A smart-grid project exists in Dallas as well, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories tested smart-grid technologies in 300 households in Washington state in 2006. And Pacific Gas and Electric is planning the country’s largest smart-meter initiative: Over the next five years, PG&E; hopes to upgrade more than 10 million customer meters in Northern and Central California.

The cost of Boulder’s pilot system is estimated at around $100 million. To help offset that price tag, Xcel Energy established the Smart Grid Consortium last December, bringing together engineering firms, business leaders and IT experts.

“We’re planning to work very closely with Xcel throughout this process,” Mertz says. “We’ll really push them to figure out how to maximize the potential of this system.” According to Mertz, the city has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. With the projected energy efficiency of a smart grid, “We could meet 25 percent of our goal,” she says. “And I’m vying to be one of the test homes.”

The author is an intern for High Country News.
High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.