Texas Smart-Grid Experts Head to the White House

Texas's smart-grid initiatives are getting some attention in Washington.

On Friday morning, a small group of Texans, including the chairman of the Public Utility Commission, Barry Smitherman, will brief White House representatives on the smart-meter rollout and related issues in the state.

"There is a lot of experimentation and research going on in Texas," said Brewster McCracken, executive director of the Pecan Street Project, an Austin-based smart-grid project, who will attend the White House meeting. "I think it's legitimately emerging as a hot spot for potential innovation."

Smart meters allow some Texans to review their electricity usage in 15-minute intervals on a website. This is useful for pinpointing waste. The meters are also easy to read remotely, which is cheaper than sending someone to individual homes, although the smart meters themselves cost more than $100 apiece. Eventually smart-grid advocates hope that the technology will make it possible for appliances like refrigerators or dishwashers to coordinate their energy usage with the needs of the electrical grid.

McCracken said attendees at the Friday meeting will also include representatives from Oncor and CenterPoint Energy, two utility companies; Reliant Energy, a Houston-based electricity retailer; smart-meter makers Landis+Gyr and Itron; and Zigbee Alliance, a wireless standards company. The group is expected to meet Aneesh Chopra, the United States' chief technology officer, and other staff from the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

 

Smart-grid initiatives have been a priority for President Barack Obama, who has called for a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for the broader use of alternative energy and included smart-grid technology in federal stimulus funds (some of which went to projects in Texas). Chopra will fly to California next week to speak at a smart-grid conference there. California appears to be the only state to have installed more smart meters than Texas, although the technology there has run into significant opposition.

“Smart-grid technologies have great potential to save consumers money as well as provide a more reliable energy delivery system in this country, and we are often holding meetings with key stakeholders to try to move this important agenda forward,” said Adam Abrams, a White House spokesman.

Currently, there are nearly 3.3 million smart meters installed in "competitive," or deregulated, areas of Texas, which includes about three-quarters of the state's population, said Terry Hadley, a PUC spokesman. Some municipal utilities (like Austin Energy) and rural cooperatives (like Bastrop-based Bluebonnet), which do not operate under the deregulated system, have also launched smart-meter initiatives.

McCracken said that one of the key points to be covered at the meeting would be uniform standards for the emerging technology. That means making sure that when data on electricity usage is reported by a refrigerator with a chip or an electric car or anything else, it is presented in the same format nationwide, no matter what company is making the device.

"The big question that's emerging for the smart grid is how does all this stuff interconnect with each other," McCracken said.

An Oncor spokeswoman, Catherine Cuellar, said that the utility was "excited to share insights" from the deployment of its advanced technologies.

 

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