The Rise of the Personal Power Plant


Smart and agile power systems will let every home and business generate, store, and share electricity.

At first glance, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, looks like a sweet anachronism. Beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings beckon from leafy streets. A restored trolley car ding-dings its way along Mountain Avenue. It’s safe and spotless, vibrant and unrushed.

And yet this quaint district is ground zero for one of the most ambitious energy agendas of any municipality in the United States. Fort Collins, population 150 000, is trying to do something that no other community of its size has ever done: transform its downtown into a net-zero-energy district, meaning it will consume no more energy in a given year than it generates. And the city as a whole is aiming to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030, on the way to being carbon neutral by midcentury. To make all that happen, engineers there are preparing to aggressively deploy an array of advanced energy technologies, including combined-cycle gas turbines to replace aging coal-fired plants, as well as rooftop solar photovoltaics, community-supported solar gardens, wind turbines, thermal and electricity storage, microgrids, and energy-efficiency. . . .