Alabama does not normally come to mind when discussing progressive energy programs, and yet Alabama Power, the state’s largest utility, is now working with three builders in the state to build “future proof” housing on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood scale. The Smart Neighborhood Builder program was spawned by the Smart Neighborhood project at Reynolds Landing, a Signature Homes community in Hoover, Ala., which is about 12 miles southwest of downtown Birmingham.

For the project, Signature Homes and Alabama Power partnered with Southern Co.; its parent firm, the Electric Power Research Institute; and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop and build the first 62-home Smart Neighborhood community that is interconnected using smart home technology and powered by a 1-megawatt microgrid. The microgrid, which remains connected to the main grid, is composed of a 400-kilowatt solar array that is backed up by a 400-kilowatt natural gas–powered generator and a 600-kilowatt-hour battery storage system.

The homes in the community feature supertight building envelopes, triple-pane windows, heat-pump water heaters, and air-source heat pumps to make them 35% more energy efficient than homes built to state building code, according to the firms involved. In addition to being energy efficient, the homes are also highly intelligent. Smart home features include remote controlled door locks, lights, and security systems. The microwave has a grilling element, and different compartments in the fridge can be set to varying temperatures.

The smart neighborhood concept proved to be quite popular and resulted in a quick sellout. “The efficiency and connectivity we were able to provide our Reynolds Landing homeowners through our partnership with Alabama Power was outstanding,” says Dwight Sandlin, Signature Homes CEO. “We were thrilled with the market acceptance—all 62 homes were sold within six months.”

In exchange for living in such a technologically advanced environment, the homeowners agreed to allow their energy usage data to be monitored. “We built a data portal tracking every circuit in every home,” says Todd Rath, marketing services director of Alabama Power.

Rath admits that the Reynolds Landing project was in some ways not yet practical for the marketplace but figures the knowledge being gleaned more than makes up for the investment. “In a lot of ways the project was strictly for research,” he says. “The energy efficiency levels achieved in these homes is not economical today. We’re trying to understand what load shapes and customer interactions will be like 20 years from now. But the Smart Neighborhood Builder program is designed to be economical today.” —Scott Sowers

This story originally appeared in ProSales sister publication