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Business Officer Magazine

Smart Residence Reflects Long-Range Commitment

Spotlight: Research Universities, from "Business Briefs" department in October 2009 issue of Business Officer

Few of us think to check the price of electricity before we run the dishwasher, nor do we ponder the source of the power we've relied on throughout our lives. But, for residents here in Boulder, Colorado, such actions may soon be common. In fact, this new way of running a household is already a reality for University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) Chancellor Philip DiStefano and his wife Yvonne, as they learn to make the most of their environmentally “smart” residence.

Part of a Larger Plan

Located on the university's campus, the chancellor's home has recently been equipped with the technology necessary to interface with the local utility—Xcel Energy—and its SmartGridCity project. Xcel and its project partners are initiating the $100 million venture to test new distribution and infrastructure technologies that will significantly upgrade the nation's power grid. Recent installation of hardware and software that are the core of the new system have made Boulder the first fully functioning smart-grid-enabled city. This signals a major move away from reliance on carbon-based fuels and focuses attention and investment on conservation, renewable energy, and moderation of power use to avoid demand spikes.

The transformation is a good fit with CU-Boulder, where students and members of the campus community have led the way in initiating sustainable practices since the mid-1970s. Our institution established the nation's first university recycling program, and since that time, we've championed resource conservation and funded new environmental initiatives. A great example of the progress of these ongoing efforts was our first zero-waste Big 12 football game, in 2008. The athletics department and our students worked together to initiate the use of completely compostable cups, utensils, and paper products. They also provided clear labeling and pictures on trash receptacles to guide users in proper disposal of packaging and compostable food waste.

The chancellor's residence is another way to underscore the university's commitment to the challenges of pursuing carbon neutrality. It's also compatible with Governor Bill Ritter's Greening of State Government plan designed to reduce the environmental impact of state government.

A Model Home for Green IT

The smart residence will serve as a prototype for the future and is equipped with a number of technology tools to save energy and provide data and analytics that empower individuals to make wise energy choices and adjustments. A few of the elements that have been installed through the SmartGridCity project include the following:

  • A 6 kV rooftop solar array that is designed to satisfy roughly 25 percent of the home's electrical demand.
  • A Web-based graphical interface that serves to chart energy usage and enable residents to make adjustments accordingly.
  • A remote thermostat communication capacity that enhances the ability to micromanage temperature settings for a variety of circumstances.
  • Perhaps most exciting, a vehicle-to-grid technology that allows a hybrid auto to plug into a garage outlet. When the vehicle is charged but not in use, the power contained within the vehicle's batteries can be used by the grid—potentially assisting in further reducing peak demand.

In the years to come, residents of Boulder and other communities will play an important role in managing their household and business energy budgets and assisting their utility company in shaving peak demand; thereby avoiding the construction of additional generating capacity. Carbon-reducing technologies such as those being piloted in the chancellor's smart residence will continue to evolve as will their effective application. In the meantime, the University of Colorado at Boulder and its chancellor are pleased to be playing a key role in this transformation.

SUBMITTED BY Frank W. Bruno, vice chancellor for administration, the University of Colorado at Boulder

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