How Fort Collins, Colorado is planning to become the world’s largest net-zero energy community
If all goes according to plan, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado will become the largest district in the world to produce as much energy as it consumes — in other words, to become a net zero-energy district. That’s the vision of FortZED, a collaboration between scientists, academics, local businesses and government. To achieve its goal, FortZED is relying on smart grid, distributed and renewable energy technologies — as well as on community education and participation. Optimal energy efficiency, crucial for the project’s success, cannot be achieved without active involvement from all players.
Developing smart grid technology is central to the FortZED project. In traditional energy grids, power flows one direction, from say, a coal plant to homes and businesses. Smart grids allow power to flow in multiple directions to draw from many small and sometimes unpredictable renewable energy generators, like wind turbines or solar power. FortZED will be testing and using some of these renewable technologies like solar photovoltaics, plug-in hybrid vehicles, microturbines and diesel generators.
Colorado State University, New Belgium Brewing, and the city and county governments are all serving as technology testing sites. As Claire Thomas of the City of Fort Collins, explained: “[W]e are conducting the testing and demonstration live on the grid, not in a bubble or test campus.” Reducing unnecessary energy expenditures is pivotal for FortZED. That means, in some cases, remotely turning off equipment (with approval from test sites and notification from the utilities).
To prepare the community for the behavior changes that will have to accompany all this, the FortZED team has been working with the local media and launching awareness-raising tools: a video explaining Renewable and Distributed Systems Integration (RDSI), and a Community Energy Challenge to encourage the district’s 6,200 residents to reduce energy consumption and increase renewable energy installations.
The project is funded by a $6.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy — which has a national RDSI program that will benefit from FortZED’s research — as well as about $5 million from private and public community sources. All equipment has been or will be installed this year, and the demonstrations will begin in 2011.
What do other cities need to create their own zero-energy districts? Says Thomas, the keys are: “[P]rogressive utilities, university research — and engaged citizenry.”