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I spent part of this week in Denver at the Xcel Energy-sponsored SmartGrid City Roadshow with Transpara partner OSIsoft.  Utilities are tackling a massive upgrade effort over the next decade aimed at meeting the rising electrical demands while reducing emissions, increasing efficiency of the grid and allowing for something called “distributed generation” where any company or individual can supply electricity back to the grid in order to help level supply and demand.

How Does Electricity Get to Me?

The supply of electricity to your home is composed of three main parts: Generation, Transmission, and Distribution as shown in the diagram.  Xcel’s SmartGrid City effort is aimed at the “last mile” of Distribution, with a goal of making electricity usage transparent to (and manageable by) the homeowner.

Where is SmartGrid City?

Boulder, CO is the site of this 50,000 home experiment, with residents getting the latest computer and electricity management technology installed courtesy of Xcel and its consortium partners.  How many times have you looked at your electric bill and wondered “why is my bill so high?”  Boulder residents can now manage their electrical usage and monitor the results in real-time, changing their habits and usage patterns in order to save money.

Why is Xcel sponsoring SmartGrid City?

Why would Xcel want to reduce demand for its product?  Because the current electric grid is built for the “peak load” and thus over-engineered for normal daily use.  Helping homeowners reduce consumption helps avoid building new Power Generating plants, which in turn means less pollution and lower energy costs.  If this works, utilities can actually free up “virtual plants” of generating capacity instead of building new ones.  Good for the environment, consumer and the utility all at once.

Check out the mainstream TV coverage of the Smart Grid in action