Here in Boulder, people are already asking a lot of questions about smart grids and whether they’re a good idea. But here in the home of the first functioning smart grid in the world, it has primarily been a financial question so far.
Folks at a recent hacker conference say it would be easy to hack a smart grid and cause trouble — like shutting power down to individual users or whole cities. That should get the attention of the 24,000 homes in Boulder that are using smart meters. Technology Review says that the rush to get smart grids up and running might be ill-advised: Read more
In March 2008, it all sounded great. Xcel Energy announced that Boulder would be home to the very first smart grid in the country, and people loved it. City council members thought the idea was stupendous; environmentalists said it would help the average person conserve electricity — or at least spread out their electricity use so that peak loads could be diminished (and, therefore, so could peak-load plants that are most often run off of coal and natural gas).
But two years later, the smart grid doesn’t look as shiny as it once did. For one thing, costs have skyrocketed. At first, Xcel thought that it would cost the company about $15.3 million to actually build the grid, not including the cost of running and maintaining it. By May 2009, Xcel realized it was going to be far more, perhaps $27.9 million. Now, Xcel is guessing that total capital expenditures — we’re talking digging ditches for fiber cable and installing smart meters in people’s homes — will cost $42.1 million. Read more
Boulder seems pretty satisfied with being eco-conscious and a bit brand-oriented (for a while, too: Nalgene, North Face, whatever — a lot of us have been guilty of it), so an Apple smart grid utility seems like a smart way to go.
But the “Smart Home Energy Management Dashboard System,” could turn “every power outlet in your home or office into a conduit for audio, video and data,” with something called HomePlug Powerline Networking, according to Patently Apple.
The Apple Smart Home system also would control the amount of power that flows to a device, so you could turn down your electronics, or turn them off altogether when not in use.
But don’t rush out to the store yet — it’s just a patent at the moment.
You’ve probably heard about the smart grid — and Xcel Energy’s bid to make Boulder the country’s first SmartGridCity.
But have you wondered what that really means for you? Like, when will you finally be able to tap into the power of the grid? (And, will it make you smarter?)
Well Xcel finally announced Thursday that their customer Web portal is up and running. Meaning, you can check your home energy use online. And if you’re one of the folks with a smart meter (and 24,000 of the houses in Boulder have one of these thingamabobs) then you can see your electricity use updated every 15 minutes. Read more
Xcel Energy wants to launch a pilot program in Boulder that would charge people more to turn on their lights or dry their clothes during the hours when demand for electricity is greatest.
The idea would be to get people to burn less watts between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and perhaps, overall. Boulder was chosen for the pilot because of its smart grid infrastructure, which would allow folks to program those dishwashers and cellphone chargers to come on in the middle of the night instead of right after work.
If the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approves the request, the pilot program would enlist about 2,000 customers and run from June 2010 through December 2011.
The idea is to encourage people to burn less wattage from 2 to 8 p.m. when demand peaks, which in turn would reduce the need for “peaking” power stations — such as the natural gas-powered unit at Xcel’s Valmont power plant east of Boulder — that are revved up to cover the spike, especially in the summertime when air conditioners are humming. Read more
A smart grid project in Fayetteville, N.C., that’s been up and running for a month has reduced electricity use by a whopping 20 percent.
This huge feat should give Boulderites inspiration and a taste of what may be possible when Xcel Energy’s Web-based portal for its own smart grid technology is up and running, allowing most folks in town to log on and check how much energy their air conditioners, clothes dryers and fridges are really sucking from the grid.
From the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog:
Those numbers are based on the first month of the project, a joint effort between Consert and I.B.M. that installed energy management systems for 100 residential and business customers of the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, the local utility.
Consert attached controllers on hot water heaters, air conditioners and pool pumps and then let customers go online and set targets for their monthly electricity bill. Smart meters and a wireless communications system provide real-time electricity consumption data to allow the utility to cycle appliances on and off to achieve the savings and help it manage peak demand.
The customer sets up a profile detailing when they wake up in the morning, go to work, return home and what temperature they’d like in their home.
“The consumer can say ‘I want my utility bill to be not to be greater than $200 a month,’ and then we’ll look at their past bill history to see if that’s achievable and ask what they want to do to achieve their goals,” said Jack Roberts, Consert’s chief executive. Read more
Xcel Energy has finished building all the infrastructure and launching all the software necessary to give Boulder the first functioning smart grid in the world.
From today’s Denver Post:
How smart is Xcel Energy’s $100 million SmartGridCity that will ultimately enable Boulder residents to keep track of their energy use day to day?
It’s so smart that it knew there was a power outage in one neighborhood 34 minutes before the first resident called the utility.
It’s so smart that the number of customer-voltage complaints — about either surges or drops — went from 70 in 2007 to zero so far this year.
It’s so smart that it identified a transformer that was overloaded and needed to be replaced — before it got fried.
In the past, the utility knew to replace transformers when they blew and lights went out.
“It is a completely new way of managing our system,” said Randy Huston, who oversees Xcel’s SmartGridCity.
Having too many plug-in hybrid cars actually plugged in could blow up the grid — or at least knock out a few localized transformers.
That’s the message from one utility executive, anyway, speaking at the 2009 Plug In conference in California. But even if it’s true, Boulder’s transformation to the nation’s first smart-grid city will likely keep the local grid intact.
Here’s the story as reported in Scientific American:
“We have a lot of challenges before us to help make this market a reality,” said Ed Kjaer, director of Southern California Edison’s electric transportation advancement program.Chief among those challenges is how thousands of power-hungry vehicles would tax distribution transformers at the local level. Such transformers have historically handled electricity load for about 10 average-size homes each.
Adding a plug-in car to the grid is equal to about a third of a house, Kjaer said. And because early adopters are likely to spring up in geographic concentrations, that could mean overloaded transformers at the distribution level or plug-in cars potentially causing power outages.
“The worst imaginable situation you could have is your neighbor yelling at you because you blacked out the neighborhood,” Kjaer said.
Boulder, Colo., is a prime candidate to be a ”geographic concentration” full of early adopters (residents took to the non-plug-in Priuses like ducks to water). But even if every single Boulderite went out and bought the new Chevy Volt when it hits showrooms late next year, Boulder’s grid should not, theoretically, explode.
Read more about how Boulder’s grid will handle an influx of plug-ins after the jump, or read Scientific American’s story “Will Electric Cars Wreck the Grid?” here.
Boulder seems hell-bent on being the first smart-grid city in America, and the Camera recently reported that Rep. Polis secured $500,000 for vehicle-to-grid tech in Boulder — another very interesting step toward the goal — that must now be approved by the Senate and the president.
But the largest city in the country may be taking notice. More after the jump. Read more