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Pecan Street Project draws federal stimulus funding for Mueller project

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 by John Davidson

Austin‘s Pecan Street Project has won $10.4 million in federal stimulus funding for an advanced smart grid energy demonstration project at the Mueller Development.


Congressman Lloyd Doggett, along with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Austin Energy General Manager Roger Duncan, made the announcement Tuesday afternoon at the site of the city’s former airport. It came just hours after Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the award as part of DOE’s $184 million in clean energy technology grants.


“We gather in this vibrant new neighborhood, where planes once took off and landed in Austin‘s old airport, and now we’ve landed some money and we’re planning to take off again with Austin‘s energy future,” Doggett said. “We’re taking old ways of using energy and creating a new, more efficient way forward.”


The project is designed to be a kind of large-scale clean energy laboratory that will test out new, hi-tech systems for generating and distributing solar power and energy conservation.


At the heart of what Duncan described as a “research and development project” is a smart grid platform that will support rooftop solar arrays on four commercial sites and 100 residences in the 711-acre Mueller development. The grid also includes innovative energy storage technologies, smart grid water and irrigation systems, smart appliances and charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles throughout the development.


“This is a giant step forward for the City of Austin,” said Leffingwell. “Austin is known for pioneering smart grid technology, so it is especially fitting that the pioneers of Mueller have joined this effort.  We are especially thankful for their participation.”


Austin Energy, a recognized national leader in alternative energy, will use this platform as way to test and evaluate the smart grid technology, which allows for a two-way flow of information and energy.


“Right now, in general, our system has a power plant in one place and a building in another place and a one-way flow of communication and power,” Duncan said. “Now we’re talking about developing power on different structures through solar and then moving that energy back and forth over the grid and communicating with each other.”


The non-profit Pecan Street Project includes a host of partners, including the city, the University of Texas, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The project will also create a Technology Review and Advisory Committee that will include representatives from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Bluebonnet Electric Coop, CPS Energy San Antonio and Pedernales Electric Coop.


The Mueller development has 1,000 residential meters and 75 commercial meters. All of the development will participate in the project in some form, including about 100 homes and four commercial buildings with solar installations. About 20 homes will have smart irrigation systems. 


Four teams from the University of Texas will design, test and analyze the smart grid systems used in the project.


“The stimulus award will provide our effort a significant jumpstart at a time when many cities and utilities are competing for leadership in tomorrow’s energy market,” said Brewster McCracken, federal grants manager with Pecan Street Project, Inc. “We intend to make the Mueller neighborhood an example of what modern neighborhoods can accomplish with smarter energy management, clean energy generation and advanced system integration. 


By testing new energy conservation and smart grid technologies on a large scale, architects of the project hope to model the way energy grids will function in the future, including everything from smart thermostats to advanced billing software. Duncan likened the project to the Internet, in which each computer is connected and trading information. The exchange of information and energy is to be a cornerstone of the model, he said.


“That’s one of the things we have to learn about, is what happens when you have a hundred homes that are all producing their own energy,” he said.

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