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Demonstrating the Smart Grid

Pilot projects clarify the vision of an intelligent utility system.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2008

save $500,000 per year because now we can query the meters to check the load by time of day. That allows us to identify problems and improve control over our load.”

The meters also provide a new way to monitor distribution- system performance from the home all the way back to the substation. By combining real-time meter data with the data provided by its SCADA system, the co-op can more accurately measure voltage and current levels at key junctures along a feeder path.

“For example, say the voltage is low at one home. The cause may be a new residential development nearby with a lot of electric heating,” says Line Foreman Jack Metso. “First we remotely check the meters at nearby residences to ensure it’s not an isolated incident. If it’s not, we might install a new voltage regulator to boost the voltage level in that particular area. We can make the change and quickly measure its effectiveness through the meters.”

Though the system already is providing significant cost savings, Birkeland says he anticipates further benefits.

“Right now we’re still in the exploratory stage,” he says. “There are still technical hurdles, such as bandwidth. It takes about seven seconds per meter to obtain readings, which is what we expected. But we’d like to see fewer technical barriers when we try to pull the much larger historical data files for each meter. We’ve taken a big step forward, but we want to squeeze out every possible benefit.”

Xcel: Boulder Gets Smart

Most technology gurus will tell you the devices needed to develop a true smart grid—an intelligent, auto-balancing, self-monitoring grid that integrates a variety of energy sources with minimal human intervention—already are available.

Xcel Energy intends to prove it.

In March, the utility announced Boulder, Colo. will serve as the nation’s first fully integrated “smart-grid city.” As such, Boulder residents and businesses will soon get an up close and personal look at technologies designed to prove the often discussed—but as yet unproven—environmental, financial and operational benefits of an automated smart grid.

If the Boulder project proves successful, Xcel expects to use it as a springboard to similar but much larger smart-grid deployments throughout its eight-state service territory.

“Our hypothesis is that we can change consumer behavior,” says Mike Carlson, chief information officer and vice president of business systems. “If the system is in an overloaded condition, can an automated-response system adjust consumption and avoid a blackout? Can we create real-time interaction between consumption and generation, cut Boulder’s spinning-reserve requirement, and reduce its future environmental, reliability and infrastructure costs? That’s what we intend to find out.”

The project includes a consortium of partners: Global consulting firm Accenture will oversee diagnostic software, intelligent distribution assets and outage-management systems; Current Group is supplying advanced sensing technology, two-way high-speed communications, and round-the-clock monitoring and enterprise analysis software; Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is providing “smart substation” expertise; and Ventyx is providing work management and price and load forecast solutions.

Phased Approach

The first phase, which Xcel expects will be completed in August, includes the deployment of 15,000 smart meters