Colorado State University a Critical Piece of the Fort Collins Zero-Energy District

Every time a member of the Colorado State University community conserves energy on campus – simple measures like turning off a computer or leaving unneeded lights off – the city of Fort Collins benefits.

These and other conservation measures at the university are having a direct impact on FortZED, a new “zero-energy,” physical district in Fort Collins created by the City and community organizations that includes much of downtown and CSU’s Main Campus. FortZED is made up of a set of active projects and initiatives, created by public-private partnerships.

One such project is underway with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that uses “Smart Grid” and other renewable energy technologies – like solar power– to generate power locally and reduce energy demand.

The ultimate goal? Provide enough renewable energy and institute major conservation measures that will result in a district that produces as much energy locally as it consumes – a “net zero energy” district – reducing the need for power from large coal-fired power plants and other far-away sources.

In 2008, the DOE awarded the City of Fort Collins grant money for a series of FortZED demonstration projects, including projects on the CSU campus– everything from solar panels on the roof of the new parking garage on the CSU campus to energy demand reduction projects in campus buildings that use less peak demand energy and are more efficient. With the help of the university community, those projects will be tested in 2010 and fully demonstrated to the public in 2011.

CSU is directly involved in FortZED because the main campus sits within the district. The DOE grant project is even more specific in that it is studying the electric peak demand on the downtown Linden Street substation feeder that serves the Oval and east side of CSU’s main campus. FortZED includes roughly 7,000 residential and commercial customers. The DOE grant is a project of the city and the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, but major partners include CSU, New Belgium Brewing, Larimer County, and several local energy technology companies.

Some details on how this grant and CSU’s efforts will help FortZED meet its goal:

Distributed power on the main campus

On the main campus this fall, Facilities Management crews will begin tests of building emergency generators – at the Natural and Environmental Sciences Building, the Greenhouse and the Chiller Plant in the Motor Pool parking lot – that will help manage CSU’s peak demands of electrical use through the demonstration period. The tests are largely to collect information and will require running the generators for only short periods of time, typically on hot summer afternoons during 2011 to see if this concept is viable and identify the benefits and costs.

“This study is all about studying how to control and communicate with assets (equipment) for the electric grid,” said Steve Hultin, an assistant director for Facilities Management.

“Running the generators locally here at CSU will reduce peak power demand at the Platt River Power Authority’s Rawhide power plant,” he said. “Distributed generation is one of the points of a stable grid for security and better performance and, with solar panels, ultimately a lower carbon impact.”

Other distributed energy projects already installed on campus that will contribute to the vision of FortZED are the solar panels on the Engineering Building, BSB Building and on the Lake Street parking garage.

Distributed power refers to electricity that is generated close to where it’s needed – such as next to a factory or neighborhood or other major power user. The closer it is, the smaller the transmission losses and the more energy – and money – saved.

Shedding load

Still other projects on campus will aim to reduce electricity use during peak times of demand. This practice, often referred to as “load shedding,” will be accomplished by sending a signal over the electric grid to certain equipment on campus, telling it to reduce its power use or shut off during times of peak demand.

Specific load shedding projects will include reducing the speed of fans attached to heating and cooling systems in buildings. The water pump at the campus fountain will also be intermittently turned off during times of peak demand and act as a signal to the campus community that the local electrical grid is peaking which represents the most expensive power.

InteGrid Laboratory

Since 2005, Denmark – the world’s most advanced wind-powered nation – Colorado State University and a company called Spirae in Fort Collins have collaborated to address challenges of taking intermittent renewable energy such as wind power and turning it into a stable and reliable renewable resource.

Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory and Fort Collins’ Spirae Inc. jointly developed the InteGrid Laboratory, one of the largest facilities of its type in the world, to provide innovative solutions of renewable and distributed power integration. These "smart grid" systems are critical for consistent grid management with the ever increasing use of renewable energy in the world. The Lab is testing and simulating renewable energy and smart grid technologies as part of the DOE grant to one day help make Fort ZED a reality.

Once projects by individual partners are up and running around the FortZED district, FortZED leaders will work to connect the projects and test their effect on the city’s electrical grid through the InteGrid laboratory.

Aside from just being more energy conscious on campus, students can get involved in FortZED through a district initiative challenging residents to save energy in their own homes. For more information about the Residential Energy Challenge and other projects of FortZED, go to