CenterPoint Energy employees are installing smart meters and automated distribution equipment in the company’s electric grid in Houston, Texas. | Photo courtesy of CenterPoint Energy


In the 1960s, the city of Houston, Texas sat at the center of the international Space Race. NASA engineers monitored space flights from Houston’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, and Houston was the first word spoken by the astronauts who landed on the moon in 1969.

Today, officials from CenterPoint Energy are trying to put Houston at the forefront of another technological revolution: advanced smart grid technology.

In 2009, the company began installing more than 2 million smart meters at local homes and businesses as part of its advanced metering system (AMS) initiative. After receiving a $200 million grant through the Recovery Act, the company expanded the project’s scope to include an intelligent grid (IG) component that involves implementing automated distribution equipment in 15 percent of the company’s electric grid.

“This program will provide consumers with the information they need to understand and take action in response to their energy usage,” says Kenny Mercado, CenterPoint Energy’s senior vice president for regulated operations technology. “It will also give us the ability to create an intelligent grid that provides self healing functionality to enhance system reliability.”

Recovery Act supports local jobs

Jeff Myerson, CenterPoint Energy’s director of smart grid integration, says that in the second quarter of 2010, the AMS/IG initiative was supporting 588 jobs, half of which would not have existed had the company not received money from the Recovery Act.To complete the AMS/IG initiative, CenterPoint Energy has contracted with national companies such as General Electric, Itron, eMeter, IBM and Quanta, which has led to direct and indirect jobs in support of the program.

“The majority of the employees working on this initiative are employed in construction and electrical trades. They are installing meters and other physical devices throughout the grid,” says Myerson.

He continues, “We’ve also hired a number of engineers and computer scientists to oversee the installation of the accompanying equipment and software that is needed to support the smart meters and automated distribution equipment.”

More information equals smarter consumers

Mercado says that once completed, the AMS initiative will provide timely electric usage information to residents and enhance grid reliability.

“Once their smart meter is installed, consumers are able to access the Smart Meter Texas Portal online to obtain updates on their daily energy use and calculate how much they are spending on electricity,” says Mercado.

A future of increased reliability

Houston sits in what is commonly referred to as “Hurricane Alley” and each year the city is in danger of having a hurricane disrupt energy distribution. When Hurricane Ike struck the city in 2008, nearly 99 percent of residents lost power.

Mercado says the smart meters and automated grid distribution equipment can reduce the number of customers affected by power outages by pinpointing the exact source of the outage and automatically rerouting power to minimize the number of affected customers.

“In the past, we would have had to send technicians out to manually reroute power in emergencies.  Now we’ll be able to do it automatically,” he notes.

Providing consumers with better service and more control is a starting point for the AMS/IG initiative.

“In the near future, consumers will be able to install smart appliances in their homes that can communicate with the smart meters to maximize energy efficiency and promote smarter consumption patterns,” says Mercado.