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Austin Energy has been praised for its innovative and forward-thinking approach to the smart grid. As one of the first utilities in the country to get serious about smart meter and home energy management, its success can be attributed to strong leadership. But that team just lost one of its key players, Chief Information Officer Andres Carvallo, to grid networking startup Grid Net.

The hire is a major boon for Grid Net, adding to the expertise of CEO Ray Bell, who brought experience in smart grid technology from both Cisco Systems and Grid Net competitor Silver Spring Networks. The company has carved out a niche for itself, promoting WiMax as the best solution for transmitting energy-consumption data between meters and utilities.

Championing Wi-Max is a bit of a controversial position in this industry. Most of the companies providing wireless networking for smart meters offer private mesh networks (Trilliant, Silver Spring), or big cellular networks operated by AT&T and others (SmartSynch). By endorsing WiMax, Grid Net is taking a bit of a risk. That solution would send data faster, and securely — but its cost needs to come down considerably before it will be a viable option for most utilities.

Carvallo’s job will be to encourage utilities to take a chance on both Grid Net and WiMax. It has an impressive roster of partners backing it up, like General Electric, Intel, Cisco and WiMax company Clearwire. That lends it a lot of legitimacy, but there’s a lot of ground to be gained by simply explaining why WiMax is superior. One powerful argument is that the price could fall sharply because it’s an open standard.

Carvallo gained a lot of clout at Austin, one of the pioneers of the smart grid, setting up the first networks in 2007. Before joining the utility, he worked at Philips Electronics, Borland and Microsoft, among other companies. He was also a speaker at VentureBeat’s GreenBeat conference last November, where he talked about his experience. Bell spoke about Grid Net’s WiMax strategy at the event as well.


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