Sustainable Cities™

Boulder: Smart Grid City

Excessive consumption of energy, brownouts and power outages are all part of everyday life in the United States. In Boulder, Colorado, the electricity utility Excel Energy has implemented a pilot project which may be a future solution to the problem. The city's energy supply network will be transformed into a Smart Grid - an intelligent energy network - that will give inhabitants entirely new options when it comes to keeping tabs on, and reducing, their energy consumption.

Udsigt over Boulder, by Molas, 3 marts 2007, Flickr Creative Commons

Xcel energy, the United States' largest public electricity supplier, together with partners, has invested USD 100 million in the Bolder Smart Grid. The system is currently under construction. When the first phase was installed in September 2010, some 10,000 homes in Boulder got an intelligent electricity meter, a so-called Smart Meter.

A crucial element of the Smart Grid is a broadband information network connected to the supply grid, connecting providers and consumers. Provider Xcel Energy will be able to monitor the energy consumption of individual households in real time, checking at the same time that the complex distribution system is working optimally. The company will immediately be able to see where and when any problems may arise within the grid, putting Xcel Energy one step ahead of potential power outages.

The Smart Meter will provide consumers with a wealth of information about their household's electricity consumption and they will be able to use it to communicate with their supplier. The electricity meter will let consumers see how much power is being used, when and by what. They will be able to see when most current is being used in the rest of the city and time their consumption in accordance with the load on the grid.

Wires, by Ian Muttoo, april 18 2008, Flickr Creative Commons

The price of electricity in the Smart Grid varies. In the middle of the day and in the early evening, when demand is greatest, it is most expensive. At night, when the load on the grid is low, electricity is cheaper. The utility will need to make use of both sustainable energy and fossil fuels to keep up with demand. In order to increase energy efficiency and better utilise sustainable energy from wind turbines, consumers can e.g. wash and dry their clothes at night when pressure on the grid is lower and sustainable energy sources will be adequate to meet demand.

It can also be financially advantageous for consumers to invest in their own sustainable energy sources. Households with solar panels on their roof can - if on sunny days they produce more electricity than they need for their own use - sell surplus power to the utility via the Smart Grid system and earn money producing power for the city. Similarly, owners of hybrid cars with fully charged batteries can connect up to the grid and upload power in return in return for a reduction in their next electricity bill.

In early 2009 the United States government decided to inject USD 4.6 billion in the development of the existing electricity supply grid. It is now up to the individual states to implement the Smart Grid system and convince their citizens of its many advantages.


Boulder's Smart Grid 'Bloody Nose' read more

Related cases:

Mannheim: Smart City

Amsterdam: Smart City

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009 / By Signe Cecilie Jochumsen

Last updated Wednesday, June 18, 2014