Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some utilities have all the fun

Well, sorry for my absence. I’ve been distracted by family issues with my father failing despite his hospice care and my mother-in-law trying to find her way after the July 4 death of her husband.

I’m going to do better

Here’ something happy about our region’s power supplier. It would be more happy if they were doing these experiments here, but it’s way happier than getting their bills.

Xcel Energy recently announced the first phase of its SmartGridCity in Boulder, Colo., is up and running. It’s a combination of infrastructure and software engineered to increase reliability, provide energy usage info to customers, allow remote reading of electricity meters and the installation of devices the utility or customer can control remotely to manage usage.

One immediate benefit was the system detected four transformers about to croak, allowing Xcel to replace them before customers were left in the dark for hours. It’s an experiment, but the utility says it’s looking good so far on the way to refining a truly smart grid for the future.

An Xcel partner, Spanish energy company Abengoa Solar, just announced another Colorado test, this time in Grand Junction. Abengoa will install a parabolic trough concentrating solar power plant at Xcel’s coal-powered Cameo plant.

That’s the confusing way of saying a trough of mirrors that move to follow the sun and they focus the light that hits them to heat synthetic oil in a pipe, according to Abengoa. The hot oil moves to the power plant and turns water into steam that spins or helps spin the turbines that generate electricity. That and makes plant run more efficiently, using less coal to make the same amount of electricity. More efficient, less carbon emitted. Don’t ask me the details. I’m still working on finding that out.

But why don’t they try that stuff around here? Not that any emissions stay around long with our gentle breezes – except Hereford’s, Borger’s and Pampa’s, I guess.

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