Smart grid in Boulder
If you’re looking for reasons to call Boulder one of the most important cities in the green movement — internationally — its burgeoning smart grid should be near the top of your list. You could also look to the reasons that Boulder was chosen as the site for the first functioning smart grid in the world:
Boulder is the right-sized city for a project such as this, and offers an ideal mix of residential and commercial customers. It’s home to academic and research institutions (including Colorado University, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology) already working with this emerging technology and studying long-term benefits.
In September of 2009, Xcel finished building Boulder’s smart grid. Xcel has an informational site about the smart grid and a survey to help Boulder residents determine if they qualify for free installation of smart meters and other in-home devices.
WHAT’S A SMART GRID?
A smart grid can refer to a lot of things, but long story short, the idea is to install technology that monitors energy use and communicates with homeowners and smart appliances to help use energy more efficiently.
If you were to look at a chart of energy use in any city — or just your home — you’d see higher energy use during the day and lower use at night. Makes sense, right? The peaks and valleys of the chart are pretty wide apart. Just imagine the difference between 6 p.m. when everybody’s just getting home, turning on lights, televisions and cooking dinner and 1 a.m. when everybody’s sleeping and has their lights off.
One of the benefits of using a smart grid would be reducing the difference between those peaks and valleys — making the total energy use in a city slightly more consistent. That happens through smarter management of energy use — maybe your fridge knows not to work too hard until 10 p.m. On a larger scale, the smart grid allows Xcel to read meters remotely, route power around bottle-necked lines and detect power outages without relying on people calling in.
Here’s some of what Xcel said when the Boulder smart grid launched:
This launch ties together all the automated functions of SmartGridCity including: switching power through fully-automated substations; re-routing power around bottlenecked lines; detecting power outages and proactively identifying outage risks. The deployment integrated more than 20 applications, 95 new interfaces and more than 300 test cases.
The latest software is proving some smart grid theories about reducing power outages on the company’s distribution system and adding real-time monitoring capabilities of the electric grid status. Early results indicate that smart grid technology is allowing the company to predict equipment failure and proactively make necessary repairs before an outage occurs.
To learn more, check out Science Friday’s show “What’s a smart grid?”