DOE Helps Jump Start a "Zero Energy District" in Fort Collins, Colorado

Fort Collins, Colorado, has long been a leader in clean energy. The city was the first in Colorado, and among the first cities in the nation, to offer its customer the option of buying "green power"—electricity from renewable energy sources—through a contract with the Medicine Bow wind plant in Wyoming.

Fort Collins is also the location of New Belgium brewery, which in 1999 became the nation's first brewery to purchase all of its electricity from wind power. New Belgium later installed a water treatment system that captures methane generated by the wastewater from beer production and uses it to produce heat and power for the brewery.

chart with pen

The city is also a high-tech center. Its largest employer is Colorado State University (CSU), which runs the $2 million-per-year Engines and Energy Conversion Lab, an innovation engine to create clean energy products. The lab works with international, national, and local clean energy companies, including the local company VanDyne Super Turbo, Inc., producer of the VanDyne SuperTurbocharger, which boosts the performance of diesel engines, resulting in greater energy efficiency. CSU also works with Spirae, Inc., a local smart grid company, to jointly own and operate the InteGrid Laboratory, a world-class test facility for studying the interaction of the power grid with renewable energy sources and other customer-located generation sources.

Overall, Fort Collins is home to 31 clean energy companies, plus a large number of other high-tech companies, including 50 bioscience companies, 259 software companies, and 220 computer hardware companies, among them such major employers as HP, Intel, and AMD. The city also hosts the Rocky Mountain Innosphere, an incubator for clean energy companies and other innovative businesses, and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, an economic development organization focused on clean energy.

Given that history and clean-energy focus, it comes as less of a surprise that the city's government and business leaders have set a challenging goal: to turn downtown Fort Collins and the heart of the CSU campus into a "zero energy district" (ZED), that is, a district of the city that creates as much energy as it uses. Achieving that goal will require demand-reduction technologies as well as substantial clean energy resources. The project, called FortZED, represents 10%-15% of the municipal utility's system. It encompasses more than 7,000 customers, including two industrial customers (one of which is the New Belgium Brewery), and it represents 45.6 megawatts of peak power demand. FortZED is obviously an ambitious, long-term project.

To help Fort Collins get started on its FortZED project, DOE is providing more than $6.32 million in funding that includes support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This initial "jumpstart" project will use a combination of clean energy, distributed energy, load-shedding capabilities, and smart grid technologies to reduce the power demand in the FortZED target area by at least 20%. The project is focused on the two main distribution power lines, or "feeders," that supply power to the FortZED area. Local community investors and project partners are providing nearly $4.73 million in matching funds for the project, bringing the total project funding to more than $11.00 million.

Part of the jumpstart project involves reducing power loads during times of peak demand by using automated load-control systems at New Belgium Brewery, CSU, and at a number of city facilities, including City Hall. These systems incorporate a range of demand-reducing technologies, such as air-conditioning setbacks and lighting reductions. The project also draws on a thermal energy storage system at New Belgium Brewery. Combined, these demand-side management (DSM) efforts should cut power demand by 800 kilowatts (kW).

The project also draws on 372 kilowatts (kW) of solar power, including more than 130 kW at CSU and a 200-kW installation at New Belgium Brewery—plus smaller systems at city and county facilities and at CSU. New Belgium's two methane-fueled generators add another 790 kW of clean energy. Add to that two advanced systems at CSU's Engine and Energy Conversion Lab: a 10-kW fuel-cell system and a 20-kW waste heat recovery system. CSU even intends to connect a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to the system.

In addition to the clean energy sources, the project also includes 10 fossil-fueled generator sets, the kind typically used for emergency power. Those generator sets—including one on city property and nine at CSU—are all connected to a control system that can call on all of them for power during times of peak power demand. Taken together, the generator sets are expected to cut peak summer loads by about 2,000 kW. And once again, CSU's Engine and Energy Conversion Lab contributes an advanced system: a 490-kW engine-driven power system that employs the VanDyne SuperTurbocharger.

While the FortZED project aims to rely mainly on clean energy resources, the use of conventional diesel-fueled generator sets for the jumpstart project is a practical way to use existing resources to help demonstrate how DSM and a wide range of distributed power sources can be combined to reduce the load on a utility's power distribution line.

"Through this project, we're learning and gaining experience in synchronizing with the grid and drawing on a diverse range of resources," says Dennis Sumner of Fort Collins Utilities.

Drawing on the diesel generator sets also presents a logistical problem, because the generators are noisy and create fumes. Both the noise and fumes will limit the times that most of these conventional generators can be run. They will not be available for use to the project for all peak periods. But the project will demonstrate that the city's utility can draw on multiple, varied energy resources to reduce its peak demand.

The jumpstart project will even include a demonstration of "intentional islanding," that is, cutting off a portion of the distribution grid from the main grid, and keeping that cut-off, or islanded, part of the grid running. That means keeping the generation sources on the islanded part of the grid in synch with each other and balancing the generators with the power demand. That relatively tricky part of the project will probably be confined to CSU's Engine and Energy Conversion Lab, but it's an important demonstration of the technologies needed to achieve the FortZED goal. And that's true for the entire jumpstart project.

"It's a step in the direction that we aspire to reach in FortZED," says Sumner.

The jumpstart project will officially be in effect through all of 2011. After that, the energy resources and smart grid technologies used for the jumpstart project will provide a foundation upon which to build the more comprehensive FortZED project.

DOE has also provided an additional $18.1 million of Recovery Act funding for a Smart Grid Implementation project in Colorado, including more than $2 million of funding for the City of Fountain and the balance of nearly $16 million for Fort Collins Utilities. Included in this project is the installation of almost 100,000 smart electric and water meters. The project also includes; a Meter Data Management System, limited Grid Automation and enhanced system security. Demand Response aspects of the project will include the introduction of residential in-home demand response systems, such as in-home displays, smart thermostats, and control switches for air conditioners and water heaters. The municipal utilities will each match the federal funds, for total project cost of $36.2 million. The Smart Grid Implementation project will undoubtedly provide additional impetus and support to the FortZED project.