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Environmental Studies

A Boulder Future

Case Study: Boulder, CO
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A Boulder Future: 

Energy and Power in Xcel's Smart Grid City

Kai Bosworth, Macalester College '10


The invention and rise of the Internet revolutionized the way we communicate with others by increasing the speed and ease at which we interact. By allowing unlimited access a wealth of knowledge, the internet also became somewhat of an equalizer. Applying these principles to our energy grid could have similar effects. In a 2006 speech, Al Gore became one of the first visible advocates of grid reform: building the “electranet”[1] in his words, more commonly known as a “smart grid.”[2] Like the Internet, the smart grid has the potential to revolutionize the electricity industry – and become a great equalizer – but it also relies on the participation of its users.

Many scientists, technocrats, politicians, activists, utilities, and citizens are beginning to take the smart grid to heart. Amidst this increase in public knowledge, Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, MN announced it would prototype the first “Smart Grid City” in Boulder, Colorado. While Xcel’s decision was praised by many, Boulder’s citizens met the news with a touch of reluctance. Despite the inherent benefits within the technology itself, the success of Boulder’s smart grid is dependent upon citizen involvement and affirmation of the technology, further determining the grid’s success and potential widespread use.

[1] “Al Gore: NYU Law, 9/16/06.” 2008 (Accessed May 1, 2008)
While Al Gore may have conceived of the word, the electranet was not invented by Al Gore any more than the Internet was.

[2] Throughout this paper, I will use the term “smart grid” to refer to the system. Other names include “Intelligrid,” “FutureGrid,” or “Smart Electric Grid.”

Last updated:  5/6/2008


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