A Clean Energy Future for the U.S.
From the outside, the Mueller neighborhood looks like any other cluster of residences located in Austin, Texas. However, solar panels on roofs and “smart meters” within houses indicate that this neighborhood is creating a foundation for the future.
Dubbed a “living laboratory“, Mueller is part of a $30 million project called Pecan Street, which was developed by the City of Austin, the Environmental Defense Fund, Austin Energy and the University of Texas. The neighborhood was created as a test bed for residential developments of the future – the ideas and technologies that develop from Pecan Street will be applied towards future economic and environtmental challenges of a growing nation.
Since 1882, the traditional model of the electric grid involves a one-way path in which businesses and residents rely on power supplied from the power company. However, the nation has grown and with it the demand for more power, creating a stress that is felt within power companies and customers alike.
Initiatives like Pecan Street are looking to alleviate that stress and to solve the problem of the one-way electric grid. Pecan Street is designed to work as a smart grid in which “all the devices in your house will work as a whole to find the most efficient and inexpensive ways to use energy,” says Colin Meehan, EDF’s project manager for Pecan Street.
“Energy is a $1.3 trillion industry in the U.S. alone,” says Prof. Michael Webber at the University of Texas. “I see smart grids as a huge economic growth engine, just as when we built the grid 100 years ago.”
Homes located within Pecan Street are equipped with a slew of technological advances designed to help home owners use energy wisely. Instead of a traditional thermostat, Pecan Street homes come equipped with smart meters, which are monitoring devices that indicate how much energy is being used at a given time. Future plans for Pecan Street residences include installing appliances, such as washers and dryers, that can constantly monitor energy supply and demands – and then run at the most opportune times, such as when energy is cheap or renewable.
In addition to the smart meters, Pecan Street homes are also manufactured with solar panels mounted on the roof. The solar panels serve multiple purposes to the homes: solar energy is converted into power for the home, and excess energy can be sold back to the power grid during periods of peak demand. The solar panels can also “communicate” with the smart meters by submitting ambient weather conditions, and providing real-time information about how much solar power can be generated for the day.
While homes like the ones developed in Mueller would certainly help residents and business owners reduce energy costs, they would also be a boon to the nation’s job market as well.
“From 2000 to 2010,” says Jose Beceiro of Austin’s Chamber of Commerce, “the city lost roughly 30,000 high-tech jobs.” Beceiro, a Pecan Street Project founder, asserts that the smart grid technology could restore them.
The Environmental Defense Fund released a special report about the Pecan Street Project in Austin, Texas. Click here to watch and discover one step towards a future of clean energy in America.