University of Colorado at Boulder

Electrical Grid and Energy Storage Research Group

Xcel Energy's Cabin Creek Pumped Hydro Facility
Georgetown, Colorado

Current research at CU on large scale electrical energy storage is led by Dr. Frank Barnes, and involves five graduate student research assistants. This work is sponsored by:

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), an interdisciplinary joint research effort between the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
The State of Colorado's Governor's Energy Office (GEO)
The Colorado Energy Research Institute (CERI)

Current studies are exploring methods and sites for capturing, storing, and releasing large amounts of electrical energy. The motivation for this research is a need to provide a buffer between electricity generation and electricity demand to optimize utilization of renewable energy sources, optimize the use of transmission line infrastructure, and generate revenue by capturing otherwise wasted energy.

Several possible technologies for electricity storage have been studied including high energy batteries, flywheels, superconducting magnetics, compressed air, and pumped hydroelectric. The major areas of ongoing research within these topics are conventional pumped hydroelectric (PHES) plant siting in Colorado, compressed air energy storage (CAES), aquifer underground pumped hydroelectric energy storage for agricultural applications, and carbon trading analysis and the effectiveness of Kyoto protocols.

State of Colorado's Governor's Energy Office Smart Grid White Paper

The U.S. electric grid, a staggeringly complex network of interconnected electric systems, is poised to undergo a major physical, operational and conceptual transformation with far reaching implications. By incorporating literally millions of new intelligent components into the electric grid that deploy advanced two-way communication networks with interoperable and open protocols, the "smart grid" heralds a fundamental change in the electricity paradigm that has prevailed for more than a century.

The modernization of our nation's electrical grid has the potential to make a significant impact on the way Americans use and conserve energy. Simply put, the smart grid is an upgrade of our century-old power grid to a new system which incorporates innovative technologies to enable the grid to deliver power in more optimal ways. Unlike the current grid, a fully-functioning smart grid will deliver electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital technology and utilize an intelligent monitoring system to keep track of all electricity flowing in the system.

The purposes of grid modernization are to ensure grid reliability, maintain affordability by giving consumers more control, resist both physical and cyber attacks, reinforce global competitiveness, accommodate renewable energy sources, reduce the nation's carbon footprint, and introduce ground-breaking advancements into the electric industry.

The smart grid will incorporate a variety of technologies and tools, allowing the grid to work far more efficiently. The U.S. Department of Energy has listed five fundamental technologies that will drive the smart grid; these technologies include:

  • Integrated communications, connecting components to open architecture for real-time information and control, allowing every part of the grid to both 'talk' and 'listen.'
  • Sensing and measurement technologies, to support faster and more accurate response, such as remote monitoring, time-of-use pricing and demand-side management.
  • Advanced components, to apply the latest research in superconductivity, storage, power electronics and diagnostics.
  • Advanced control methods, to monitor essential components, enabling rapid diagnosis and precise solutions appropriate to any event.
  • Improved interfaces and decision support, to amplify human decision-making, transforming grid operators and managers into visionaries when it comes to seeing into their systems.
Although grid modernization is simple in theory, smart grid deployment is a complex process. Thus, the success of the smart grid will require a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary understanding of the various industries and players whose actions must be coordinated to ensure its successful, efficient, and safe operation.

Colorado Senate Bill 10-180 creates an 11-member task force to gather information and report to the legislature and Colorado Public Utilities Commission on issues related to the implementation of smart grids in Colorado. Governor Ritter signed SB-10-180 on June 11, 2010 and we delivered the White Paper to the Smart Grid Task Force at their first meeting on July 8th. The paper is a comprehensive survey of important smart grid topics, as well as probable and potential issues related to the deployment of the smart grid. Each of its 13 chapters endeavors to provide essential background information, key issues, and recommendations.

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