Published: June 1, 2010 By

smart car and phil distefano

Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano charges up his hybrid car in his garage before he starts his day as leader of the Boulder campus.

We heard a sudden knock on the door late on a Sunday afternoon last winter. Yvonne, my wife, and I found a young couple from China on our doorstep asking for a tour of our house.

They had read about the “Smart House” in a Chinese magazine. They politely explained that they didn’t realize anyone actually lived in the Smart House. They thought it was a perpetual “open house” for demonstrating a futuristic low-energy home. We had an engagement that evening but were happy to accommodate them.

Affectionately known as the “Smart House,” the official chancellor’s residence became the first house in the nation’s “Smart Grid City” in late summer 2008. Xcel Energy outfitted the house at its expense as a living laboratory for “green” living.

Whether it’s a local school group like Watershed School in Boulder or the international media from France, Japan, CNN or National Public Radio, Yvonne and I are happy to give a lesson on the Smart House. After all, CU-Boulder has been a leader in sustainability for 40 years. Students opened the first university Environmental Center in 1970 and started the nation’s first campus recycling program in 1976. [See article on page 20.]

What makes the house so smart? Yvonne and I can adjust the temperature from anywhere in the world with a few taps on our laptop computer.

We charge our plug-in electric hybrid Ford Escape — on loan from Xcel — with electricity generated from our rooftop solar panels. The car will take me round trip to Denver International Airport (plus a quick grocery run), or to downtown Denver and back twice without a charge.

With the stroke of a keyboard we tap into software that tells us how much energy we are expending at any given moment and how much we’re conserving.

The nifty software tells us that last month we avoided producing 538 pounds of carbon emissions because of our solar energy use. That’s equivalent to removing 17 cars from the road for a day, lighting the street lights on our block for 365 hours, lighting a major league baseball game for 1.1 innings or microwaving 3,586 pizzas for students’ late-night studies.

We also saved $35 last month on our electric bill. If you multiply that by the 24,000 homes now plugged into Boulder’s smart grid, our little village is making quite an impact on conservation.

In our home, Yvonne and I will have conserved enough energy over the year to cook 41,000 pizzas. That’s one pizza for every student studying for finals plus 10,000 left over for a graduation party!