Making the electrical grid smarter

The Department of Energy's effort to modernize the U.S. electrical grid is headed by the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The office's multi-agency Smart Grid Task Force is responsible for coordinating standards development, guiding R&D projects and reconciling the agendas of a wide range of stakeholders.


The Department of Energy 's effort to modernize the U.S. electrical grid is headed by the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The office's multi-agency Smart Grid Task Force is responsible for coordinating standards development, guiding R&D projects and reconciling the agendas of a wide range of stakeholders.

The basic concept of Smart Grid is to add monitoring, analysis, control and communication capabilities to the national electrical delivery system to maximize the throughput of the system while reducing the energy consumption, according to NEMA. “The Smart Grid will allow utilities to move electricity around the system as efficiency and economically as possible. It will also allow the homeowner and business to use electricity as economically as possible.”

The nation's electrical grid delivers electricity from utilities where it is generated to consumers through two primary systems: the transmission system and the distribution system. The transmission system delivers electricity from power plants to distribution substations; the distribution system delivers electricity from distribution substations to consumers.

The grid also includes many local networks that use distributed energy resources to handle local loads and meet application requirements for remote power, district power and critical load protection.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, its Grid 2030 vision, calls for the “construction of a 21st century electric system that connects everyone to abundant, affordable, clean, efficient and reliable electric power anytime, anywhere.”

This can be achieved “through a smart grid, which would integrate advanced functions into the nation's electric grid to enhance reliability, efficiency and security, and would also contribute to the climate change strategic goal of reducing carbon emissions. These advancements will be achieved by modernizing the electric grid with information-age technologies, such as microprocessors, communications, advanced computing and information technologies.”

SmartGridCity getting connected in Boulder

The design phase is complete, equipment is ordered and construction has started on SmartGridCity in Boulder, CO.

SmartGridCity is a multi-phase project to be complete in December. The potential benefits of SmartGridCity include operational savings, customer-choice energy management, better grid reliability, greater energy efficiency and conservation options, increased use of renewable energy sources and support for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

In April, Xcel Energy and its Smart Grid Consortium partners completed a study of Boulder's electrical infrastructure. In May, the company began implementation of the Smart Grid network and construction on the SmartGridCity Control and Operations Center.

“We're on our way toward building the grid of the future and making SmartGridCity a reality,” said Dick Kelly, Xcel Energy chairman, president and CEO. “This is a forward-thinking project that will transform the way we do business. In SmartGridCity, our customers will have more information, including the tools to communicate directly with us, and will choose when and how they use their energy based on price, generating resource or convenience.”

Phase I included full-system automation, monitoring and smart meters for the first group of SmartGridCity customers. It involved upgrades to two substations, five feeders and nearly 15,000 meters in Boulder. Phase II includes installation of a distribution and communication network for remaining areas within Boulder and enabling of Web portal access to all SmartGridCity customers.

Xcel Energy and its partners have started installing the high-speed communications network and Smart Grid sensing equipment necessary for deploying SmartGridCity, which will enable two-way communication between customers and the company.

Total electricity consumption is expected to decline in 2009 due to the slow growth in new housing construction and reduced demand in the industrial sector.

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