Nov. 15, 2008 -- The people of Boulder, Colo., have a reputation for appreciating their environment. Biking and hiking trails, parks and open spaces make up a large portion of the picturesque western city.
But Boulder's love of the environment is taking on an innovative, technological edge perhaps more at home in science fiction than in average living rooms as the city transforms itself into America's first Smart Grid City.
Watch the story Saturday on the Discovery Channel's Focus Earth.
Soon, 50,000 homes in Boulder will soon be decked out with the latest in environmentally-friendly, energy-saving technology -- including solar panels, electric cars and, for some, a specialized heating, cooling and lighting system -- all of which will be integrated into a monitoring system that reports the home's carbon footprint to the homeowner.
"We like to think of Smart Grid as bringing the world of Thomas Edison together with the world of Bill Gates," said Ray Gogel of Xcel Energy, a utility company involved in the system's installation.
Xcel, along with several green high-tech companies, has invested $100 million to transform Boulder into a living laboratory.
"We're doing something that the whole world is looking at right now," Gogel said.
University of Colorado Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson and his wife, Val, were the first to let Xcel transform their home. Xcel energy put solar panels on the house, gave them a new smart meter and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that literally plugs in to their house.
The new system allows Val Peterson to easily control her energy consumption.
"I pretty much get on my computer, tell my house and my car what to do and then I walk away," she said. "My solar panels are talking to my house, are talking to my car, are talking to my house. It's a beautiful system."
These high-tech gadgets make the Peterson's home so efficient that they are not just using less power, sometimes they save so much power that their meter is essentially spinning backward. The excess power is stored in the house, charging the batteries in their car and supplying them with about two days' worth of backup power.
Since they started the program, they have been able to produce 590.7 fewer pounds of carbon, saving enough to microwave 154 pizzas. Multiply that by 50,000 customers -- the number currently expected to install the system -- and it can make quite an impact.
Another resident of Smart Grid City made his home so efficient that his utility bill has nearly vanished.
"Our monthly bill was $3," the resident said.
Each home's smart meter keeps track of where the energy powering the house is coming from. Bud Peterson believes the system could change the way consumers buy energy.
"Today, when you go online to buy an airline ticket, you can select on schedule or price," he said. "And with this type of system, you will be able to select whether you would like to use renewable energy, sustainable energy or coal-fired."
For the Petersons, all the decisions can be made over the Internet, from anywhere in the world.
"If we left to go away for the weekend and we realize we left the air-conditioning on or we'd left some other things on, we could go through the Internet, through the Web from any computer, from your iPod or iPhone, and change the settings in the house, control the thermostat setting or a lot of the electrical appliances," said Bud Peterson.
It's a system that tempts users, like Val Peterson, to look even further into the future.
"You've got a GPS locator that knows your location, and so if you're driving back home you can actually program the system so that when you got within 5 miles of where you lived or where you worked it would turn the air-conditioning on or off automatically based on your location," she said.
Gogel believes the project will prove to the world these kinds of systems are the future of energy.
"I honestly believe that as new houses are built this will become the standard that gets incorporated into the house," Gogel said. "You want to have a zero-energy house. It makes sense over time."
Until then, Boulder's happy to use it's power to show America how to use less.