CenterPoint Showcases Smart Grid Technology for Energy Department

It's another searing summer day in Spring, but the inside of this model home is cool and comfortable.  That's despite the body heat of dozens of visitors milling about.  It's part of a demonstration by CenterPoint Energy of how customers can hold down their air conditioning bills without having to suffer.

The house showcases smart grid technology CenterPoint Energy began rolling out in a pilot program last fall.  Kenny Mercado is with transmission and distribution subsidiary CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric.

"We gave in-home display devices, these little monitors, energy monitors, to 300 of our consumers to show them how much electricity they're using on a daily, weekly, even a minute by minute basis, so that they can forecast their bills before it arrives and help them manage their electricity usage."

The company is about two-thirds of the way through rolling out the smart meters across its service territory in Greater Houston.  Mercado estimates it'll take about another year to cover the entire area.

The program already appears to be showing results.  A survey the company conducted of participants found that more than 70% were adjusting their power usage based on the information from their in-home monitors.

Jo Monday is one of those participants.  She and her husband John live in a thirty-seven year old home in Bellaire.  Like most Houstonians, they've had a running battle every summer trying to keep cool.

"We installed an air conditioner and changed the value or the cost of our electricity per month substantially by putting in a much more energy-efficient unit."

CenterPoint kicked off the program two years ago with the help of a $200 million stimulus grant from the Department of Energy.  One of today's visitors is Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.  He's here to get a briefing from CenterPoint and make sure taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

"I feel like I've seen the future and it works.  It's an exciting thing to see how you get the combination of consumers who are getting the tools to understand, minute to minute, what's being used where in the home, giving them greater options to figure out how they want to spend their time, spend their money."

At the same time, CenterPoint is working on a longer-term project — the deployment of what it calls the Intelligent Grid, which will allow it to track and respond much faster to blackouts.  Poneman, who lives on a small spur in Virginia, says this has a special resonance for him.

"And I'm calling, and I'm calling, and I'm saying, ‘I don't have any lights.'  We went a week without lights.  And I remember saying to myself, ‘what company would need their customer to call them up and tell them that their asset is not operating?'"

CenterPoint estimates it will take another seven to ten years before the Intelligent Grid covers its entire service area.  Until then, the company will have to respond to outages the old fashioned way — with a lot of shoe leather and a lot of time.

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