Regional utility company Xcel Energy chose Boulder, Colo., as its first Smart Grid City. This makes the town a test bed for an innovative energy management pilot program that will help Xcel increase its electrical distribution efficiencies and provide customers unprecedented home-energy management options and real-time data that’ll help them reduce their costs.

The Smart Grid ties substations and meters together in a wireless communication network, transmitting information about energy demand to the utility, and real-time energy pricing and energy sources to consumers through a black-box device in their homes. Customers will see when wind generators are producing at capacity and can choose between wind or coal power, depending on cost and timing of use. The system also will communicate with chip-equipped smart appliances to program operations during peak wind-power hours, if desired.

Another component the pilot program will test is “distributed generation,” which would use power stored in fully charged electric/hybrid cars to feed back into the grid as needed. The batteries in the hybrid cars also can provide backup electricity to their owners’ homes during power outages.

“While many of the system components have been tested before, nobody has put it all together like this,” says company spokesman Tom Henley. Substation installation has begun; by August, the company expects to have 25,000 smart meters and black boxes installed in homes throughout the city.

For more information, go to and search “Smart Grid.”