Xcel Brings Intelligent Electricity to Life

by Osman Parvez
We like things smart in Boulder. Walk around our city and you'll bump into plenty of bookstores and well stocked libraries. Our coffee shops, bike paths, and buses are filled with bookworms and laptop toting smarties. Heck, we may even be the most intelligent city in America (according to Forbes).

Now, get ready for smart electricity.

Xcel Energy has selected Boulder as its first SmartGridCity and the new system has already started to come online. Earlier this year, Xcel announced that they would test an upgrade to their infrastructure and last month, the first of 15,000 “smart” meters were installed. The rest will be put in place by the end of the year, with an additional 10,000 meters available by next summer, by customer request.

What's a SmartGridCity?

The SmartGrid is all about information. It's a system where energy consumption is monitored from every meter and used to balance and optimize the grid. In addition to smart meters at individual homes and small businesses, substations are being upgraded with smart technology – two this year and three next year. The system aims to lower cost, power generation, and power consumption, while increasing system reliability and positive environmental impact. At least we know the program is ambitious.

Being on the SmartGrid will result in quite a few notable changes and features. Through an online web portal, customers will be able to monitor their real-time energy consumption and choose which type of energy they’d like to receive such as 100% green, lowest cost, or a mix of sources. In addition, smart devices or appliances can connect to the system and adjust settings to help optimize load management. Customers with their own energy sources, such as wind turbines, solar panels, or even hybrid electric cars can dynamically supplement the grid during peak hours.

Increased reliability will be one of SmartGrid’s biggest benefits. Many businesses come to a sudden halt during a power outage, and can lose hundreds of dollars in productivity for every minute that passes. A few years ago, I worked at a place that literally told me to go home until power was restored. As a kid, I recall school day pausing or even coming to an end during a blackout. With smart technology and sensors along the grid, the system should be able to better predict outages due to increased load, environmental conditions, or device failure. The system can then automatically correct or adjust itself. If an outage does occur, the grid can detect and isolate the loss of power.

Houses chosen to participate in SmartGrid have been determined solely on their location on the grid. Xcel sent letters to chosen customers in May and will notify customers about a week before installing new meters. Expect to hear much more about SmartGrid in the future.

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