Xcel Energy, the leading provider of wind energy in the United States has just announced that it plans on building the US's first fully integrated Smart Grid in Boulder, Colorado. The idea behind a smart grid is to integrate high-speed communication technologies with the electric grid, allowing for real-time, two-way communication between the utility, the consumer, and throughout the distribution grid.
This is a logical yet giant step forward since existing grids really offer little in the way of information to either their own relay stations or the end user. With the new system customers can have programmable control devices installed in their homes, allowing them to automate home energy use and the integration of infrastructure will "support easily dispatched distributed generation technologies (such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with vehicle-to-grid technology; battery systems; wind turbines; and solar panels)." Customers will also have information at their fingertips, seeing what the cost of electricity is at any given time, and being able to choose the actual source of their electricity, be it from natural gas, coal, or renewable sources.
From a network perspective, the grid will be able to do some pretty impressive stuff. They envision a "self-healing" grid that will divert power automatically if a transformer or line goes down, ensuring that all areas of the grid are always provided with uninterrupted service. If lines freeze in cold weather, stations will have the capability of increasing the power through those individual lines, creating great electrical resistance and thus warm them, melting the ice. This great video on their site does a great job of explaining in detail the inner workings of the system, definitely worth watching.
The initial stages of the project will begin in August of this year, with continued implementation and assessment of technologies expected in 2009. Much to look forward to.
As an aside, in their continued commitment to the environment, Xcel Energy has installed several nesting boxes for raptor birds at their plants, and they've got webcams set up so we can see the birds' progress over the season. Very cool.
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