DOE Awards $13.5-Million Grant That Will Benefit Texas’s First Smart Grid Community

Houston-based housing developer Land Tejas Communities has announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $13.5 million to the non-profit Center for the Commercialization of Electric Technologies (CCET) for a series of energy projects that will include investments in the Land Tejas community of Discovery at Spring Trails.

The community is a model test case for the development of future distributed energy-generation projects and the use of green technologies in residential community design and construction.

The DOE award will be matched with an investment of $13.9 million from the project’s participants, including Land Tejas, Direct Energy, GE, whose innovative ecomagination initiative inspired the project, Masco Corporation and participating CCET members, for a total investment of $27.4 million. In addition, Houston-based En-Touch Systems is providing fiber-to-the-home technology to the project.

The CCET grant will be used to 1) enhance the use of Synchrophasor measurement to monitor conditions on the Texas power transmission backbone; 2) enhance real-time direct load control, which is made possible by advanced meter information collected by the state’s leading transmission and distribution utilities; and 3) develop the infrastructure of Discovery at Spring Trails, Houston’s first solar-powered hybrid community, and integrate the community with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) wind energy system as a Smart Grid demonstration project.

The origin of the project is the Energy Independence and Security Act, which was passed by Congress to authorize Smart Grid demonstration projects, and funding comes from the federal government’s $787-billion economic stimulus package, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which was signed into law on February 17, 2009.

"We are extremely pleased about this expansion of our partnership with CCET and the award from DOE," said Al Brende, President of Land Tejas. "We have been committed to making Discovery at Spring Trails a national model for energy and water conservation, and this grant will allow us to add Smart Grid technologies to the technologies we are installing in the homes and the community and take conservation and cost reduction to an unprecedented level."

Craig Lobel, President of EcoEdge Consulting, which created the Sustainability Master Plan for Discovery at Spring Trails, said, "The goal of the project is to develop a master-planned community of 3,000 homes that meets advanced environmental and energy efficiency standards for homes in a median price range using the latest technologies. Discovery at Spring Trails is the first community to utilize extra-high-efficiency building techniques, in-home energy management tools, energy-saving appliances, efficient lighting standards, the option to install up to 3 kilowatts of photovoltaic electric power, which will produce a 30-50% power savings for homeowners, and a 250-kilowatt solar-generation plant to supplement the community’s energy needs. We also are installing state-of-the-art water-use reduction and reuse systems."

The DOE grant, which will be invested during a five-year demonstration period from January 2010 to January 2015, will be a part of the effort to better integrate the vast Texas wind energy resources into the state’s electric transmission, distribution and metering system.

The project includes the installation of synchrophasors to enhance monitoring of grid conditions as variable wind power resources move through the system and the transmission of power from the grid to integrated Smart Grid technologies at Discover at Spring Trails. These will include household and solar plant battery storage, which will be charged during off-peak hours to assure the lowest-possible energy costs, as well as smart meters, appliances, lighting and controls furnished through the GE ecomagination initiative, and plug-in stations for hybrid electric vehicles in every garage.

Other participating members of CCET involved in these projects include the Southwest Research Institute, Electric Power Group, CenterPoint Energy, Oncor, American Electric Power, Sharyland Utilities, GridPoint, Drummond Group, Frontier Associates, Valence, and Xtreme Power/Energy Xtreme. CCET is a 23-member Texas non-profit corporation based in Austin, whose purpose is to enhance the safety, reliability, security, and efficiency of the Texas electric transmission and distribution system through research, development and commercialization of emerging technologies.