Xcel Energy is working to modernize its power grid, which has stayed relatively unchanged over the past 100 years, even as consumption continues to rise.
With the demand for energy expected to increase by 40 percent over the next 25 years, Xcel Energy is making changes to Boulder’s power grid to ensure it can meet such demands.
According to the Xcel Energy website, Xcel has been working to transform Boulder into the first “SmartGrid City” with the implementation of numerous technological changes to the city’s power grid.
The switch to a “SmartGrid” will alter the traditional power delivery system in a “digital, interconnected, modernized network,” which will in turn allow for residents to work with the new utilities to manage their energy usage.
With much of the technological changes already underway or fully completed, Xcel is shifting their focus to enlisting voluntary resident participation in their program.
Xcel is offering the “SmartGrid City Pricing Challenge” to Boulder residents with the objective of giving participants greater awareness of both the amount of energy they use and how to reduce that amount.
The goal, according to Xcel, is to help people reduce their own energy use.
“We’re asking people to look at participating with [us] as we get closer to rolling out the products that will help them reduce their energy use in a moment’s notice,” said Xcel Spokesperson Tom Henley.
Yet, despite Xcel’s multitude of new initiatives, some CU students said they had not heard of either Xcel’s “SmartGrid City” program or its “Pricing Challenge” programs.
“I have not heard anything about that,” said Scott Valentine, a 21-year-old senior integrative physiology major. “I haven’t seen anything in the mail.”
Valentine said the program sounded somewhat appealing, but he would not volunteer to participate.
“It sounds like a cool program, but I don’t think I’d use it myself,” he said. “It sounds like a hassle to do all that. I’ll just turn the lights off when I leave home. That’s what I do to save energy.”
Brad Estis, a 20-year-old junior civil engineering major, said he had heard of the “SmartGrid City” program, but he questions how beneficial the long-term effects of it could be.
“It seems like a good idea from the little bit that I’ve heard,” Estis said. “Obviously, reducing the carbon footprint is good, but who knows the overall impact it could have?”
Henley said he cannot verify if volunteers who have agreed to participate in the program are students or not, because Xcel does not ask that information during the process of signing up.
Xcel is looking for the participation of 2,000 residents, but by next year that number will increase, Henley said.
“We’re signing up 2,000 customers who will be asked to volunteer to participate,” he said. “Come early spring and late winter, there will be 5,000 participants who will participate in the program.”
Henley also said the technological changes that will need to take place in the homes of residents who volunteer for the programs, such as new wireless “smart thermostats,” will be free of charge.
According to the “SmartGrid” website, the “Pricing Challenge” offers three different programs to residents: “Shift and Save,” “Peak Plan Plus” and the “Reduce Your-Use Rebate.”
“Shift and Save” is a plan designed to encourage participants to be aware of the time of day they use their energy. It’s best to shift use to “off-peak” hours, before 2 p.m. and after 8 p.m., when overall energy demand is lower.
“Peak Plan Plus” focuses on energy use overall throughout the year and works to use less energy during peak demand days. There are roughly 15 peak demand days throughout the year, and Xcel will either e-mail or call participants to inform them of these days and ask that they work to lessen their energy consumption during such days.
The final program, “Reduce Your-Use Rebate,” works by offering incentives to participants by notifying them again of peak demand days and events during the year, so they can work to reduce energy usage during these times. Participants will be billed according to their usage and can receive rebates when they use less energy during these peak times.
Henley said that moving into the volunteer-based program phases of the “SmartGrid City” initiatives has been the most exciting part.
“People haven’t had direct interaction with ‘SmartGrid’ because we’ve been building the system,” he said. “But now that we have the ability [to] provide them the direct benefits, this is where people can see how these things can interact with and benefit their lives.”
Charles Tse, a 20-year-old junior mechanical engineering major, said although he had not heard of the voluntary programs, he would be willing to participate if asked by Xcel Energy.
“It’d be cool to be a part of it,” Tse said. “I think it’s great that they’re trying to do that.”
Henley said that involvement in one of the programs is ongoing for two years and that, with such a time commitment to the program, residents will hopefully make more energy-conscious decisions.
He said, “We think that’s going to give them the idea of the ‘SmartGrid’ functionality and how they can benefit from a more reliable energy source, how they can benefit financially and make more informed decisions.”
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Sarah Simmons at Sarah.email@example.com.