Xcel Will Make Boulder Colorado Its First “Smart Grid City”

Michael Giberson

According to the Xcel Energy news release:

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 $100 million effort.

From the Wall Street Journal, additional details:

Departing from the norm, Xcel isn’t seeking permission from regulators to recover its costs in advance, but will wait until “we have proven the benefits,” says Mike Carlson, Xcel’s chief information officer. Xcel has units in eight states.

The utility also intends to install equipment upstream of consumers, on its energy-delivery system, such as in substations, that will boost grid intelligence and reliability, squeezing out some of the inefficiencies that push up costs.

One of the first things consumers will see is installation of 25,000 advanced meters, enough for half the city’s homes, during the next year. The remainder of homes may be retrofitted at a later date. The meters will be capable of two-way communication and will provide a gateway allowing the homeowner — or, with permission, the utility — to remotely control furnaces, lights, air conditioners and other devices.

The meters also could give the utility the ability to dynamically price electricity — in the future, they could allow Xcel to assign different prices to electricity used at different times of the day, or for electricity used for different purposes. It could charge one price for basic lighting and another for running air conditioners or recharging batteries of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, expected to be marketed in three years or so. These pricing plans would require approval of state utility regulators, something Xcel hasn’t yet sought.

Most meters on U.S. homes today simply log electricity consumption and must be read monthly by human meter readers.

It sounds like Xcel is doing many things well: two way communication with meters (not just automated reading, remote control ability by the customer or with permission the utility, considering how rate structures can enhance the benefits, integrating the changes with complementary upstream improvements, and so on. Boulder seems well-selected, too. Should prove to be a very useful project.

The Denver Post also has a story on the project.

4 thoughts on “Xcel Will Make Boulder Colorado Its First “Smart Grid City”

  1. The only problem is that Xcel assumes that a better understanding of real-time electricity usage will be enough to encourage businesses and residential customers to voluntarily cut back on their power consumption, particularly during peak hours when the grid in many cities operates at close to maximum capacity.

    In fact, though, there’s good reason to think that most people won’t change their consumption patterns unless they have an economic incentive to lower their bills by avoiding peak hours. Unfortunately for Boulder, Xcel plans to keep charging a flat rate for electricity instead of instituting “dynamic pricing” that would provide such incentives.


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