Colorado companies embrace smart-grid technology |

Colorado companies embrace smart-grid technology

Andy Vuong
The Denver Post

Power utilities, long considered slow adopters of technology, are embracing their own digital revolution.

Smart-grid technology will essentially digitize the nation’s power grid, enabling two-way communication between customers and utilities and opening the door for automatic meter reading, tiered electricity rates and faster detection of outages.

The installation of smart digital meters outside homes and upgraded substations around cities will allow utilities to give consumers real-time information about their individual power use and ways to reduce their bills through efficiencies.

Upgrading the nation’s power grid may cost $400 billion by some estimates. President Barack Obama has earmarked $4.5 billion from his economic-stimulus package to help advance the technology.

Several companies in Colorado are among those at the forefront of the revolution and may benefit from the funds.

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Boulder-based Tendril has spent $20 million developing software that utilities can use to communicate with customers through the smart grid.

Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, which serves 35,000 customers in northern Colorado, is spending $4.5 million to install 20,000 smart meters.

And Xcel Energy is leading a $100 million venture to turn Boulder into a smart-grid city.

“Now is our time,” said Adrian Tuck, Tendril’s chief executive. “The whole macro trend of bringing energy efficiency to consumers and giving them more control over their energy consumption is really starting to take off.”

Tendril is working with Reliant Energy on a smart-grid project in Houston, Tuck said. Poudre Valley REA will have some smart meters on line by the third quarter, with the rest installed by December 2011.

“They have a wide range of capabilities, from automatic meter reading to controlling residential (power usage) like air conditioning and hot-water heaters to helping us with our outage management,” said Brad Gaskill, the Fort Collins-based power cooperative’s CEO.

The smart meters will allow Poudre Valley to raise rates for peak usage hours and lower them for other times. The utility will also be able to cut down on costs.

“Right now we’ve got meter readers, but we won’t need meter readers with this technology,” Gaskill said.

The installation phase of Xcel’s smart-grid project in Boulder will be completed in July. It will allow some plug-in hybrid electric cars to feed power to the grid and even serve as backup generators for homes. The smart grid also will allow the utility to integrate solar and wind power to specifically serve Boulder.

Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said the utility will seek regulatory approval for a tiered electricity rate for Boulder residents later this year and implement it in early 2010.

Joel Kurtzman, a senior fellow at Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank Milken Institute, said the best way to use bailout funds for smart-grid technology is to provide loan incentives or guarantees.

“That will produce real leverage of the stimulus funds,” Kurtzman said.

Andy Vuong: 303-954-1209 or

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