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The energy utilities industry may be one of the last great technological frontiers of North America. This industry has experienced little innovation over its 100-year lifespan.

But now the utility industry is about to embark on a revolutionary journey: the Smart Grid. Utilities and information technology companies will be surrounding the nation's electric grid with a digital grid that will provide consumers and businesses with many value propositions.

One of the key components to this "smart" electric grid is the upgrade of conventional mechanical electric meters at homes and businesses to new digital "smart meters" armed with wireless two-way communications technology.

This technology -- partially fueled by the Obama administration's $3.4 billion in stimulus dollars supporting the "modernization" of the nation's electric grid -- requires one of the largest IT "upgrades" that the nation will see in decades, and provides new product, service and market opportunities for utilities, generators, power traders and information technology companies.

So the big question is, "When will the Smart Grid be available?" Smart meter implementations have already been underway across the United States for the past two years, led largely by the efforts of California and Texas.

Consider these programs now underway:

  • Dallas-based Oncor Energy, with a meter base of roughly two million, expects 600,000 smart meters in place by the end of this year.
  • Houston-based CenterPoint Energy will have 145,000 smart meters deployed by the end of 2009, and all 2.4 million meters in CenterPoint's region will be upgraded by 2014.
  • Austin Energy, the city-owned utility based in the Texas capital, completed all 410,000 smart meter upgrades before the end of 2009.
  • Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) of California has received approval from the California Public Utilities commission for a $2.4 billion smart meter upgrade. PG&E estimates by the end of 2011, 5.2 million electricity meters in California will be "smart."
  • Five New England states have also received $226 million from the federal stimulus bill to implement 832,000 smart meters in their regions.

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