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Boulder Project: A Setback for the Smart Grid?

Boulder Project: A Setback for the Smart Grid?

August 25, 2010

Recently, there have been signs that Xcel Energy's grand SmartGridCity experiment here in Boulder, CO, wasn't going so well. The project was meant to serve as a "living laboratory" to learn more about which technologies were effective, what customers wanted and preferred, and how best to implement the necessary components.

Instead, cost overruns and a continued lack of standards in the industry have led to the declaration by some that the SmartGridCity project is simply a failure. Initial estimates provided by Xcel said the project would cost $15.3 million; at Colorado Public Utilities Commission meetings earlier this month, Xcel said the costs are now nearly three times that. And only about 43 percent of the households in Boulder have smart meters – the component that has been focused on as the base for a Smart Grid.

But what does that mean for the Smart Grid?

At its base, the SmartGridCity project has taught us there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the Smart Grid. Even the "experts" are running into unexpected challenges as the process moves forward.

Other questions focus on whether the smart meter is really the best way to approach a smarter grid. After all, there are still significant questions as to the security of the meters, according to a recent Pike Research report. And without a set of security standards in place, it will be difficult to address those security concerns.

But the true lesson from the troubles in SmartGridCity is that the living laboratory in Boulder, CO, is just one experiment in developing a smarter grid. And while Boulder city officials filed a motion with the Colorado PUC claiming their disappointment with the progress on the project, they also said they still believe in the concept of "making the electric generation, transmission, and distribution systems 'intelligent.'"

But there's still a long way to go.

Related from MDM: What is the Smart Grid?

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