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Boulder, Colorado: World's first 'smart grid city' now online

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A city-wide installation of a smart grid is now operational in Boulder, Colo., marking the first such operational grid in the world.

A city-wide installation of a smart grid is now operational in Boulder, Colo., marking the first such operational grid in the world.

The smart grid will provide electrical power via the 200 miles of fiberoptic cable, 4,600 residential and small business transformers and almost 16,000 smart meters that are now connected to the system.

The project, called SmartGridCity and led by Xcel Energy, also included automating three of four distribution substations, four computer-monitored power feeders and 23 feeders that are monitored for voltage irregularities.

A smart grid allows the utility to better monitor and regulate the electrical grid using real-time monitoring and data feedback.

Utilities can more rapidly adjust for equipment failures, power outages and other electrical problems.

Individuals can access their own energy consumption information and set goals for energy use.

How smart is Boulder's new grid?

The Denver Post will tell you:

It's so smart that it knew there was a power outage in one neighborhood 34 minutes before the first resident called the utility.

It's so smart that the number of customer-voltage complaints — about either surges or drops — went from 70 in 2007 to zero so far this year.

It's so smart that it identified a transformer that was overloaded and needed to be replaced — before it got fried.

In the past, the utility knew to replace transformers when they blew and lights went out.

"It is a completely new way of managing our system," said Randy Huston, who oversees Xcel's SmartGridCity.

The Obama administration is promoting the smart-grid concept and has provided $4 billion in funding.

"That has really raised the level of activity," said Ed Legge, an analyst with the Edison Electric Institute, a trade organization. "But Xcel has been a real leader and in the forefront of getting an overall smart grid up."

Now that's a smart solution.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure