Xcel Energy and Boulder are transforming the industry

BOULDER, COLORADO - These are certainly interesting times for the electric utility industry and its customers. With the eyebrow-raising announcement that Xcel Energy has selected Boulder, Colorado as their first Smart Grid City, the company has further transformed their reputation into one of the most forward-thinking utilities in the country.

In many respects, Boulder is an ideal candidate for Xcel Energy's bold initiative. It meets the company's size and urban density criteria. Plus, its residents have long supported environmental quality and the early adoption of efficient and renewable energy technologies.

The Smart Grid City initiative offers this green, tech-savvy community the opportunity to push the utility to realize the full the potential of its plan. The Boulder City Council voted unanimously to collaborate with Xcel Energy in the Smart Grid City initiative, recognizing that it can help the City achieve its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Xcel Energy will be among the first U.S. utilities to implement the smart grid concept in a big way - on the scale of a medium-sized city. The potential of smart grid technology is to enable the intelligent integration of the power grid, the building stock, and the vehicle fleet, to make energy use in each of these sectors more efficient and more reliant on renewable sources.

To do this, it will combine advanced communications and smart meters with programmable in-home controls that allow customers to automate their home energy use as well as support plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

At Rocky Mountain Institute, we call this vision the Next Generation Utility, and it is a key step in making utilities compatible with the carbon-constrained future that we are entering. It will renew our aging and brittle power infrastructure. And, it also allows utilities to increasingly meet the demands of the digital economy with zero- or low-carbon resources, such as wind and solar.

Participating Boulder residents will benefit from an array of cutting-edge technologies in their homes and offices. Intelligent controls will manage appliances and equipment energy consumption and automatically turn themselves on when they sense the electric supplies are adequate and turn off or "power down" when they sense supplies are strained.

Also, residents will experience and learn more about how distributed generation technologies such as electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles impact their grid-how they recharge from the grid during the night and sell energy back to the utility while parked during the day.

Connecting and coordinating these distributed, clean, and efficient energy resources will be the smart grid, a grid that carries both energy and information across an omni-directional web to produce electricity cleanly and use it wisely.

In truth, the electric grid hasn't changed much since Thomas Edison's time. His inventions and the development of the electricity system are exhibited at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., and many of the technologies displayed-generators, distribution wires, transformers-are still recognizable in the electricity industry today. But all that's about to change.

As Xcel Energy and the City of Boulder lead the transformation of the electricity industry in the Smart Grid City, yesterday's power technology will finally be a thing of the past. Let's hope others around the nation step up quickly and follow them into the future.


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