SmartGrid shaping up: Xcel begins near-real-time monitoring for Boulder homes
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to clarify that the 15-minute intervals of a home’s power use is catalogued and made available the next day online. Xcel Energy processes the data at midnight every day. Eventually, the company hopes to provide live updates throughout the day.
For the first time, most residential energy customers in Boulder now have the ability to see how much electricity their home is using — in near-real time.
Xcel Energy announced a new online program Thursday that allows all 1.4 million Xcel power customers in Colorado to view their monthly electrical and natural gas consumption online. And about 24,000 customers in Boulder who have had a “smart meter” installed can see a summary of their electricity usage, in 15-minute incriments, from the previous day.
The site, at xcelenergy.com, is a major component of the SmartGrid technology being piloted in Boulder.
By answering a short survey about their home, and using data provided by smart meters or monthly utility bills, the program will also allow all Xcel customers to estimate their energy cost and carbon footprint. Advanced features can display billing information and historic energy-use patterns, so customers can see when they tend to use more energy.
Boulder City Councilman Ken Wilson said the ability to monitor power use inside homes is a giant leap for understanding how and when energy is consumed.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been waiting for,” Wilson said. “What I’ll do is start looking at (the Web site) every day to see what stays on late at night that I could maybe turn off, or just try things like turning off a computer.”
Wilson said the SmartGrid project is a crucial step toward meeting Boulder’s Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He said studies have shown that “when people have this kind of information, they can reduce their (energy) consumption up to 10 percent.”
So far, Xcel has provided the communications infrastructure needed to outfit about 46,000 homes and businesses in Boulder with so-called smart technology, as part of a $100 million investment in making the city the first integrated “SmartGrid.” About 24,000 smart meters, which communicate real-time information to Xcel about power consumption, have been installed on Boulder homes in the last year.
Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Henley said the company will soon begin offering advanced in-home power management equipment to test homes in Boulder. The few hundred homes anticipated to participate in the pilot study will be given equipment that can regulate some household devices and be controlled and monitored via the Internet.
“Very soon, customers will be able to turn devices on and off” remotely, Henley said.
Xcel is now accepting applications to participate in the test online. For a house to qualify for the project, it must have central air conditioning and a smart meter already installed. The equipment will be installed in qualifying homes within the next two months or so, Henley said.
Eventually, the smart meters, online tools and in-home equipment could be used to help power customers better integrate and store renewable energy, or manage charging programs for plug-in vehicles.
Last fall, the SmartGrid program reached another milestone when Xcel announced it had completed the infrastructure needed to monitor most of Boulder’s electrical grid. Before the new systems, Xcel had to rely on customers calling in about power outages before it could respond. But since the company converted three of Boulder’s four power substations, Xcel says it has avoided four potentially long-term power outages and has had no outages caused by a system failure.
“The system is now being monitored to the point that we can tell how it’s reacting,” Henley said.
While some City Council members have expressed concern about how long the new technology is taking to hit the inside of Boulder homes, Henley said the SmartGrid is something that’s never been attempted before anywhere else in the world — and there are bound to be hiccups.
“This is essentially a monumental task,” Henley said. “Being the first out of the gate is always something that’s the most daunting.”
Henley said Boulder is gradually becoming a “showcase” for smart power technology, a process that’s going to be ongoing for decades.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be done,” Henley said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.