Harnessing the Power of the Intelligent Grid to Innovate / Enhance Efficiency and Reliability of Utility

The Challenge

The electric power infrastructure is
a foundation of American prosperity
and one of the key elements of
the digital economy of the future. This
vital asset is under pressure – issues
such as continuing growth in demand,
the importance of power quality and reliability
in a digital society, aging workforce
and assets, physical and cyber security
of the electric infrastructure and environmental
and cost pressures all combine to
drive the need for change. This change
can come in the form of implementing
an intelligent grid for the electric utility,
providing communications and computer
control to create a highly automated,
responsive and resilient power delivery

Harnessing the Power of the Intelligent Grid

Addressing these challenges, IBM and
CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric,
LLC (CNP) – a Houston-based domestic
electric energy delivery company that
includes transmission and distribution
utility operations – are moving toward
modernizing CNP’s electric grid through
transforming business processes and reliability
and by utilizing advanced technology.
Much of the technology – hardware,
software, new materials – has already
been proven, by utility pioneers or by
other industries.

The intelligent grid utilizes technology
in three important ways: 1) automating
the grid to harden it and make it less
costly; 2) integrating the electric grid to
create an end-to-end network for quickly
acquiring and transporting data from
millions of end points; and 3) expanding
the value of the grid beyond typical utility
needs to support new services and new
markets offered by retailers.

IBM and CNP have developed an intelligent
grid road map that aligns with the
DOE’s “Grid 2030” and EPRI’s IntelliGrid
Framework. There are three key components
of the intelligent grid architecture
that include:

Event Avoidance

  • Remote load profiling/management
  • Grid event diagnostics
  • Advanced data analysis
  • Grid condition sensing and predictive

Self-Healing Grid

  • Improved asset management/visibility
  • Real-time grid condition monitoring
  • Automated grid switching
  • Meter as a sensor
  • Transformer load management
  • Condition-based crew dispatching
  • Grid event detection and location

Advanced Meter Infrastructure

  • Meters
  • Meter interrogation
  • Meter connect/disconnect
  • Outage notification
  • Two-way communications with meters

The components of the intelligent grid
are the important building blocks of the
smart delivery systems. They help to
look at preventive care to the network
by identifying and repairing intermittent
grid problems to minimize outages. The
system is built with real-time sensing,
thus providing the ability to react to
disturbances and helping to maintain
a healthy and secure power grid. One
area not to overlook is the need for continuous
monitoring to be able to dynamically optimize the performance and
robustness of the power grid.

An intelligent grid becomes a sensing
network that connects all parts of the
electric power distribution infrastructure,
enabling automatic data collection, storage
and analytics to support management
of assets and operations with improved
observability, ultimately delivering efficient
system reliability. This allows sensor
devices such as meter relays to communicate
over the network via middleware
services that can connect and communicate
with both legacy and modern backoffice
systems as well as field operations
devices that monitor and control power
line equipment.

The back-office functions can include:
finance and administration, customer
management, human resources and procurement.
The field operations devices
can help a utility to manage asset life
cycle, advanced metering and mobile
workforces. This cycle can look at the
overall analytics and update the systems
to continuously provide the appropriate
feedback and data to support the required
back-end functions. This is all done over a
flexible and open architecture – one that is
safe and secure.

Advanced Metering Is Catalyst for the Intelligent Grid

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, Section
1252 requires regulatory commissions to
consider new standards relating to electric
rates and service, and encourages
“time-based pricing and other forms of
demand response, whereby electricity
customers are provided with electricity
price signals and the ability to benefit by
responding to them.” Advanced meters
and demand response use enabling
technologies, such as sensors, that act
as catalysts for the development of the
intelligent grid. The IBM/CNP Intelligent
Grid Solution involves installing, testing
and monitoring automated meter reading
(AMR) of electric meters, remote connection
and disconnection of electric service
and automated outage detection and restoration.
Broadband over powerline (BPL)
technology will be used for the data communications


The CNP intelligent grid and advanced
metering strategy requires a communications
capability that enables extensive
real-time grid observability. This includes
monitoring, data transport and integration,
along with the analytics necessary
to provide input to automated processes
to support advanced decision making in
the areas of operations, customer services
and asset management. BPL was
chosen as the communication network
because it provides a robust, secure
communications infrastructure overlaying
the grid and is capable of managing
high-speed data flow for critical utility
applications. CNP has chosen an open
architecture and is working with IBM as
the system integrator to implement this
solution. This communication backhaul
network can be segregated into four
distinct segments or tiers:

  • Tier 1 – Major backhaul: data center to
    the substations
  • Tier 2 – Minor backhaul: substations to
    the intelligent grid device or meter relay
  • Tier 3 – Wireless meter data collector
    communications with the meter
  • Tier 4 – Meter to Zigbee wireless connection
    to home energy management
  • devices

This communication network can link
all the components of the intelligent
grid to provide a path for the data to be
transmitted back to the data centers for

Advanced Metering Infrastructure

Advanced metering provides the cornerstone
for the smart grid, enabling a more
fluid and competitive retail market while
enhancing a utility’s ability to improve
reliability, customer service, operational
efficiency and energy conservation.
Advanced metering and an intelligent grid
will also expand electric competition in
the Texas market by allowing retail energy
providers (REPs) to offer more services
without large investments in technology.
This will be accomplished by more
transparency of pricing and insight into
choices available in the market. Advanced
metering, acting as a cornerstone for the
smart grid, also provides a platform that
1) enables customers to make energy conservation
decisions that help protect the
environment, 2) affords utilities’ advanced
outage identification and enhanced power
restoration capabilities and 3) permits
the integration of energy produced by
customer-owned renewable sources (such
as solar or wind applications) into the

The drivers for AMI included both business
and technical needs. The model
selected by IBM and CNP addresses issues
related to both AMI and service management,
as outlined below.

For AMI, business needs are focused
around the market terms and conditions
(timely and accurate monthly reads along
with on-demand reads) and compliance
with the Public Utility Commission of
Texas’ advanced metering rules that are
currently under development.

Evolving Role of MeteringAMI technical needs look at the meter
functions (voltage alerts, real-time measurements,
and time and date stamps)
and is built on an open architecture
(imperative for allowing the system to be
flexible and grow to meet changing technologies).
Automated meters play a critical
role in the intelligent grid architecture
by providing another sensing device.
This innovative approach transforms the
meter role from simply a usage recorder
into a network sensor and portal, thus
enabling the lag time, or the “latency,”
of providing meter information to the
network to be as low as possible. The current
work with CNP and IBM focuses on
understanding latency throughout the
intelligent grid in order to increase the
speed of data transfer to improve diagnostics
on system status, thus enabling
faster automated restoration of power
when outages occur.

For service management, business
needs dictate looking at ways to reduce
cost by exercising remote meter connect/disconnect, self-service portals and
self-healing systems. Key to this activity
will be the ability to gather meter data for
analysis and usage, voltage profiling and
load management.

The service management technical
needs require building an infrastructure
that can support the remote device control,
meter status reporting, outage/restoration
reporting and diagnostic and distribution
analytics. The meters will need to
have two-way communication capability
and provide data on theft and tampering
flags. The solution that CNP and IBM are
creating has the capability to send firmware
changes to meters to avoid having to
change them out as new market requirements
evolve. Figure 1 shows successive
increase in improvement as the scope of
metering is broadened.

AMI Selection

Open Metering SystemIBM helped CNP with the AMI selection criteria for both meter vendor and MDM
(meter data management) solutions for the proposed limited deployment of 10,000
meters in 2007. One of the key criteria was having an open system that was scalable
to meet CNP’s growing needs. The decision process spanned the following
key areas: regulatory, business, technical and operational. Figure 2 illustrates
the key criteria for each of these areas.

At the conclusion of the selection
process, Itron’s OpenWay™ CENTRON®
electricity meter and eMeter’s MDM solution
were chosen for the proposed limited

The eMeter MDM is built on a core
application known as EnergyIP which has
adapters that can be built to interface
with legacy systems and the AMI network
and meter provider.

The MDM includes an AMI management
database that maintains the complex
relationship between the meter, account
premise, service point and communication
node. It processes real-time information
using an integrated message bus that
connects AMI meter systems to meter
data processing and business process
management applications. The eMeter
MDM also uses realtime messaging services
to connect interface adapters that
are tied to CNP’s legacy systems. The
MDM information can also be viewed via
web portals built by IBM using web services
APIs. The MDM collects meter reading
and event information via connection
to Itron’s Openway servers.

Itron’s OpenWay meter architecture is
a true two-way communication system
to the meters with the ability to make
firmware changes to each meter unit. The
meter’s communication across a radio frequency
network uses already-established
ANSI standard protocols (C12.22) and are
picked up via an OpenWay cell relay. This
OpenWay cell relay is connected to the
communication backhaul via interface with
the BPL boxes. Data is then sent over the
secure BPL communications network to
the OpenWay servers/collection engine.

The CNP AMI solution uses all the technologies
described to build a flexible and
innovative approach to the metering system.
The solution architecture, along with
the data access features, will allow thirdparty
portal access for retail energy providers
and support innovative customer
premise services and home area network

CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC is a subsidiary of CenterPoint
Energy, Inc., a domestic energy delivery company that includes electric transmission
and distribution, natural gas distribution, competitive natural gas sales and
services, interstate pipelines and field services operations.