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Boulder to build on with its smart power grids implentation

Sunday 23rd March 2008
Boulder city, Colorado. Courtesy: http://away.com/images/outside/

One of the most interesting power grid experiements is underway in Colorado, US where Xcel Energy is to put in motion its vision to make the city, the nation's first fully integrated Smart Grid City. The advanced, smart grid system, when fully implemented over the next few years, will provide customers with a portfolio of smart grid technologies designed to provide environmental, financial and operational benefits.

Xcel Energy is to put in motion its vision to make the city, the nation's first fully integrated Smart Grid City. The advanced, smart grid system, when fully implemented over the next few years, will provide customers with a portfolio of smart grid technologies designed to provide environmental, financial and operational benefits.

Xcel Energy anticipates funding only a portion of the project, and plans to leverage other sources including government grants for the remainder of what could be up to a $100m effort.

"Smart Grid City is the first step toward building the grid of the future," said Dick Kelly, Xcel Energy chairman, president and CEO. "In Boulder, we'll collaborate with others to integrate all aspects of our smart grid vision and evaluate the benefits. The work we're doing will benefit not only Boulder, but also customers throughout our eight-state service territory."

In December 2007, Xcel Energy established the Smart Grid Consortium, bringing together leading technologists, engineering firms, business leaders and IT experts. Consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. The group will provide guidance, products and services needed to bring Xcel Energy's smart grid vision to life.

In addition to its geographic concentration, ideal size and access to all grid components, Boulder was selected as Smart Grid City because it is home to the University of Colorado,  it has relatively isolated electrical distribution system and its population of roughly 120,000 (including students) and several federal institutions, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which already is involved in smart grid efforts for the federal government.

 Xcel plans to install 50,000 new smart meters serving about 100,000 of those residents, a large enough pool that the company can experiment with different approaches.  It could, for example, deploy meters from different vendors, which send information in different ways: either wirelessly, or over the power lines themselves.

One scheme that Xcel plans to test is a way to better use of renewable energy. Currently intermittent sources of renewable power,  as wind must be backed up by more conventional fossil-fueled or nuclear power.

"Xcel's leading the country right now in wind power--we have almost 3,000MW on our system and plan to double that - but we have a consumer base that doesn't modify its habits when that wind isn't blowing," Carlson is quoted saying. And instead of trying to store the renewable energy he hinks that the smart grid may be able to "store" demand for when the wind happens to blow.

Xcel plans to send signals when the wind is up. Consumers will be able to program smart meters to activate their washers or heating panels in response. "If the system could signal wind availability - or any renewable energy source, for that matter - would we see an adjustment of consumption? We think yes," Carlson he is reported saying.

Similarly, real-time pricing signals should reduce consumption during peak hours, when the price of wholesale power spikes and power lines can overheat. In January, Pratt's group at Pacific Northwest National Lab completed a demo project that showed that real-time pricing can cut peak power usage by 10%, reducing congestion and power losses on the lines. It also means the least efficient and most polluting fossil-fueled plants, which utilities would rather not fire up, can be  sidelined.

Smart Grid City could feature a number of infrastructure upgrades and customer offerings,  for the first time fully integrated through the partnership's efforts in Boulder to include:

  •  Transformation of existing metering infrastructure to a robust, dynamic electric system communications network, providing real-time, high-speed, two-way communication throughout the distribution grid;
  • Conversion of substations to "smart" substations capable of remote monitoring, near real-time data and optimized performance;
  • At the customer's invitation, installation of programmable in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use; and
  •  Integration of infrastructure to support easily dispatched distributed generation technologies (such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with vehicle-to-grid technology; battery systems; wind turbines; and solar panels).


The potential benefits of the Smart Grid City include operational savings, customer-choice energy management, better grid reliability, greater energy efficiency and conservation options, increased use of renewable energy sources, and support for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and intelligent-home appliances.

With the city selected, Xcel Energy and Smart Grid Consortium will spend the next four weeks to six weeks studying the city's electricity infrastructure to develop a scope and preliminary design plan for implementing the changes. Work would start soon after, but system changes will take place over the next few years.

The first phase of Smart Grid City is expected to be in place by as early as August 2008, with implementation throughout the city continuing through 2009. Beginning in 2009, the consortium also expects to begin an initial assessment of the technologies.

After initial implementation and assessment, Xcel Energy will use the results from this effort to talk with state, federal and regulatory officials about a larger deployment throughout the company's eight-state service territory.

Sources:http://www.xcelenergy.com
 http://www.technologyreview.com/
Web: http://www.xcelenergy.com/smartgrid

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