Power grid in Houston to get smart technology upgrade
Feb 2006, Computerworld.com
A Houston-based electric
and gas utility company is using new technology from
IBM to make its power grid more efficient by enabling
it to automatically report power outages, component
failures and other information over a real-time, IP-based
broadband-over-power-line (BPL) system.
CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric LLC, a subsidiary
of CenterPoint Energy Inc., is deploying a pilot of
an “intelligent grid” that will allow the power grid
to transmit its status using strategically placed
sensors and new “smart” electric meters planned for
installation in all customer homes and businesses.
Don Cortez, vice president
of distribution support for the company’s electric
operations, said the new technology will help the
utility to virtually upgrade its power lines, substations
and other electrical transmission equipment without
needing a complete and hugely expensive physical replacement.
The price tag for the five-year project is $300 million.
Businesses and consumers have
much higher demands for electrical power, Cortez said,
while the power system itself still largely uses wire
and components from the 1950s.
“What we really need to do
is add a layer of intelligence to that 1950s wire,”
Cortez said. “What we’re putting together is the enabling
platform to make this happen.”
>Under the pilot project, several
hundred sensors will be placed in strategic locations
throughout the power grid and connected to a pilot
BPL system that the company completed last year. The
sensors will be like eyes and ears that can deliver
information on the condition of the system, including
voltages and other feedback, via the BPL system directly
to IBM-provided databases and analytical software.
“Obviously, the more [sensors] I have, the more information
I get back,” he said.
The pilot intelligent grid
program will be deployed in three areas in Houston
this year, covering about 44,500 electrical customers
and about 22,500 natural gas customers. The company
has about 1.9 million electric customers and 1 million
natural gas customers, Cortez said.
>Over the next five years, the
company plans to replace the 1.9 million electrical
meters used with smart meters that are linked digitally
to the utility to provide instant data, such as power
loss and voltage information. The smart meters will
also allow the utility to connect and disconnect customers
from the power system without having to physically
visit the home or business, streamlining hookups and
The new meters will also provide
benefits for customers, Cortez said, such as the ability
to monitor their electrical consumption in real time
so they can change their usage habits and save money.
With the new meters, customers won’t have to call
the utility in the event of a power outage as they
must do today. Instead, the meters will report the
problem to the utility instantly.
Using the pilot BPL system,
the intelligent grid can send bidirectional information
to the utility so the data can be evaluated and used
to make operations more efficient, Cortez said. “It’s
like one giant LAN now,” he said.
Raymond Blair, vice president
of BPL initiatives at IBM’s energy and utility industry
division, said the intelligent grid technology will
enable utilities to know much more about what’s happening
on their aging networks.
“Part of what we’re doing is
giving them that visibility,” Blair said. Using the
data capture from the sensors and smart meters in
the system, CenterPoint will eventually be able to
perform data analytics to use its network more efficiently.
“There’s going to be mountains of [data],” Blair said.