CenterPoint EnergyElectric Transmission and Distribution
The Future Smart Grid
More reliable power and faster power restoration

CenterPoint Energy received a $200 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for its smart meter and intelligent grid projects. Of these funds, $50 million is being used to begin building a self-healing smart grid that will use smart meters, power line sensors, remote switches, and other automated equipment to improve power reliability and restoration in greater Houston.

The power outages that have been a fact of life for electric consumers will meet their match with the intelligent grid. Localized outages will be largely self-healing. Most breaks in a power line – a tree limb falling, for example – will be detected and communicated by sensors and the associated event data transmitted using wireless and/or other communications technologies. As a result, power will be re-routed around the break or fault and service continues, virtually uninterrupted, while CenterPoint Energy personnel are dispatched to the repair site.

In the event of larger outages, such as a major storm, the smart grid will first employ self-healing techniques to restore power to as much of the system as possible. Then the damage to the system as a whole is diagnosed and mapped. Using that information, CenterPoint Energy will be able to restore the greatest part of the system in the shortest time and then continue on to full restoration. In many cases, the time to restore power through the intelligent grid in CenterPoint Energy's service area will be a fraction of the current averages.

The initial intelligent grid deployment, covering the area inside Loop 610 the ship channel and parts of north Houston, is expected to be completed in 2014.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Intelligent Grid?

CenterPoint Energy has begun building an “Intelligent Grid” with power line monitoring equipment , remote switches, and other automated equipment that will locate power line outages as they occur. This can speed recovery since repair crews won’t have to search for the source of an outage and can begin repairs much sooner. In fact, in 2012 when there was an opportunity to use Intelligent Grid automation to re-route and restore power, it saved more than 611,000 customer minutes over 20 outages. This is about a 21 percent improvement in outage response, with about 70 percent of affected customers experiencing an outage of just a few minutes rather than at least a half hour. So far in 2013, in 21 outages, over 1.2 million outage minutes were avoided, an improvement of more than 30 percent.

Phase 1 of the Intelligent Grid inside Loop 610, around the ship channel, and in some areas of north Houston will be completed in 2014. We plan to extend the Intelligent Grid to the rest of the Houston area in later phases.

What is the difference between a Smart Grid and an Intelligent Grid?

As CenterPoint Energy defines the terms, the Intelligent Grid is a component of the Smart Grid. The Smart Grid is composed of the Advanced Metering System (smart meters), Intelligent Grid (power line sensors, remote switches, and other automated equipment to improve power restoration), telecommunications systems supporting both smart meters and the intelligent grid, and all of the back-office computer systems and interfaces that enable all these systems to communicate and work together.

Do smart meters help with power restoration?  

Smart meters can automatically notify CenterPoint Energy when your power goes out, which could help us restore power more quickly as well as find out whether the problem requires an electrician to perform work in your home without having to send a CenterPoint crew to your home. CenterPoint Energy is one of the first utilities to use smart meters to report outages, and we continue to test the system. For now, you should continue to call us to report power outages. However, in the near future, you’ll be able to sign up to be alerted by phone, text, or email when power goes out and when it has been restored.

How much faster can you restore power with smart meters and the intelligent grid?  

Smart meters are the early detection system for power outages. When service is interrupted, they transmit a Power Off Notification to CenterPoint Energy. During storms, they help our Distribution Control center pinpoint outages and dispatch crews more effectively than ever before.

Before smart meters, when a customer called CenterPoint Energy to report a power outage, we didn’t know whether there were other customers without power until they called – which could take an hour or more during weekdays or overnight. Now, if an outage affects multiple customers, we get multiple Power Off Notifications, which helps us determine the level of equipment impacted by an outage. This is referred to as localization. As an example, during a storm on December 20, 2012, without using smart meters, it took an more than an hour to localize fuse and transformer level outages, whereas during storms on March 31 and April 2, smart meters dropped the time to localize to 22 minutes or less.

In 2012 when there was an opportunity to use Intelligent Grid automation to re-route and restore power, it saved more than 611,000 customer minutes over 20 outages. This is about a 21 percent improvement in outage response, with about 70 percent of affected customers experiencing an outage of just a few minutes rather than at least a half hour. So far in 2013, in 21 outages, over 1.2 million outage minutes were avoided, an improvement of more than 30 percent.

How will this help CenterPoint Energy respond to hurricane outages?

With the completion of installation of smart meters in 2012 and Phase 1 of the Intelligent Grid in 2014, smart meters, power line sensors, remote switches, and other automated equipment and computing systems will allow the Intelligent Grid to “self-heal” in the event of a major storm to restore power to as much of the system as possible. Then the damage to the system as a whole will be diagnosed and restored according to current practices. In many cases, the time to restore power through the Intelligent Grid could be significantly reduced.

When will the “self-healing” capabilities be turned on?

The Advanced Distributed Management System, the computer system which will be the Intelligent Grid’s “brain,” will be completed in 2014, so “self healing” is still a few years away.

What can you tell me about electric vehicles?

Another advantage of smart grid technology is that it creates a platform to facilitate the growth of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and fully electric vehicles (EVs). PHEVs and EVs are now commercially available from several major automakers. To prepare for the coming of these vehicles, CenterPoint Energy took part in a nationwide industry group that studied (PH)EVs to help ensure compatibility with electricity infrastructure. For more information, visit www.centerpointelectric.com/cehe/smartmeters/plugin.