A Boulder climate-tech startup is helping utilities get smarter and cleaner.
By Holly Bowers
Boulder-based startup Copper Labs is getting dirty energy off the grid.
Following the adage “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Copper Labs uses real-time energy data to show electrical, gas and water utilities across Colorado and the United States what’s happening on the grid at any given moment. This allows them to help their customers shift non-essential energy use, or discretionary load, to off-peak times when energy costs less and comes from renewable sources.
In an industry where data used to be available only every 30 days, that’s a game-changer. It means utilities can avoid turning on what’s known as “peaker plants,” older, dirtier power plants that run only at times of high demand, and customers can better understand how their energy choices affect both their power bills and the environment.
The proliferation of distributed energy resources like solar panels and electric vehicles has made managing the power grid a lot more complicated in recent years, says Copper Labs CEO Dan Forman.
“These are brand-new dynamics that utilities are not equipped to manage,” he says.
Utilities now have to balance a huge number of factors, including increased load as consumers and businesses move away from gas and toward electrification, the changing availability of renewable energy like solar throughout the day, and distributed energy resources. If they don’t get it right, there might not be enough power available when people need it. Case in point: the near-failure of the grid in Texas during last year’s cold snap.
“Without having real-time visibility into what’s happening at the grid edge, it puts at risk what we’ve all come to expect from our utilities, such as, ‘When I hit that light switch, it comes on,’” Forman says.
The 10-person startup has been working from an office on Pearl Street since 2016. Forman says Boulder is ideal for a climate-tech business like Copper Labs.
“Not every community starts out with such a natural, beautiful environment that engenders sustainable thinking,” he says. “We’re lucky to be here.”
Understanding Xcel’s New Rate Plan
This spring, Xcel Energy announced a new time-of-use rate plan for residential utility customers basing costs on energy consumption (watts used over a period of time, read on meters as kilowatt-hours) and when that energy is used. The plan has three tiers.
∼ Peak periods (weekdays 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) cost 17 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) in the winter and 28 cents per kWh in the summer.
∼ Off-peak periods (7 p.m. to 1 p.m. of the following day, weekends, holidays) cost 10 cents per kWh.
∼ Mid-peak period (weekdays 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) cost 14 cents per kWh in winter and 19 cents per kWh in summer.
The goal is to help customers shift non-essential electricity use (think running your dishwasher or charging your electric vehicle) to times of lower demand. This will help Xcel rely less on fossil fuels by shifting demand out of that peak evening period to earlier in the day (when there’s more solar power) or later at night (when there’s more wind power). This helps the utility avoid turning on older, dirtier power plants that only run during peak demand.
This year, 310,000 Coloradans will be migrated to the new plan. If you’re one of them, you should have received notification and a new electric meter from Xcel. The rates will be rolled out across the entire state by 2025.
More information is available at xcelenergy.com.