While the green building industry strives to construct and retrofit homes that will rely less – or not at all – on the power grid, there are plenty of people out there trying to make the grid itself operate much more efficiently, with less reliance on traditional sources and more reliance on clean and renewable ones.
One such smart-grid project is the Fort Collins Zero Energy District, or FortZED, whose goal is to refine the grid infrastructure serving downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, and the adjacent main campus of Colorado State University.
Originally proposed in 2007 by the nonprofit Community Foundation of Colorado’s UniverCity Connections community coalition, FortZED is now well on its way to becoming a full-fledged demonstration project for grid management in an area that includes both residential and commercial customers.
While the project was one of eight initiatives to receive a portion of a $17 million grant from the Department of Energy last year, the DOE announced this week that FortZED will receive another grant, totaling $4.8 million, as part of the $3.9 billion in stimulus funds the government says it will invest in smart-grid technology and electric transmission infrastructure.
Accommodating alternative power sources
As a recent story in the Coloradoan points out, the money will help pay for technology that will control electricity flowing onto the city’s electric grid from alternative sources. At this point, says Steve Catanach, a Fort Collins Light and Power manager, electricity flowing in from private sources disrupts the grid.
The three-year project will demonstrate how this new technology will enable the grid to accommodate many future sources of energy throughout FortZED, Catanach told the paper.
The system serves about 5,000 customers in FortZED, and its peak load is about 45 megawatts, another Coloradoan story explains. The challenge will be not only to upgrade the grid to accommodate substantial electrical flow from alternative sources, but to generate enough power through those sources to meet peak demand.
“It’s a really big goal to take 45 megawatts of power and make that net zero,” says Gary Schroeder, energy services engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “It’s probably the biggest initiative of its kind in the country. I think technically it’s feasible. But that’s the challenge.”