Grid Net, the startup that’s been advocating a smart grid based on the wireless standard WiMAX, has just gotten a new high profile Chief Strategy Officer: Former Austin Energy CIO Andres Carvallo, architect of one of the first smart grids in the U.S. and the man who coined the term “the smart grid” itself. While we reported the news this morning, here’s our edited phone call interview with Carvallo on why he joined Grid Net, what he plans to do for the young startup, and how Grid Net’s vision of the smart grid isn’t just about WiMAX:
Q). Why did you take the role at Grid Net?
AC: At Austin Energy we’ve been drilled into the smart grid for some time — I would call Austin Energy a pioneer for the smart grid. We put a lot of work into putting it all together and as you do all that work you realize there must be a better way. Over the years I learned of so many companies and so many players. Then I met Ray [Ray Bell CEO of Grid Net] and we had some great conversations about the future of the industry and the building blocks, and it was just serendipitous. A lot of what Ray had been working on and what I had wanted to build at Austin Energy had been right on the money. It was clear to me that Ray had already put together a significant portion of my own vision.
Q). Did Austin Energy and Grid Net have any business or financial relationship?
AC: No, no relationship.
Q). What are you set out on doing at Grid Net?
AC: Grid Net has a phenomenal solution that runs on WiMAX. We’re going to educate my peers across the utility industry about that. Most of the folks have not made decisions on this yet, so there is a good opportunity to understand and evaluate it. Our vision is for a real time, 100 percent all Internet Protocol, secure, reliable, scalable smart grid platform versus some of the other stand alone solutions that have been around for a long time, but are not investing in the ecosystem. Radio frequency, mesh, demand response, SCADA networks — a lot of these things are being created over time to be delivered only on the requirements of a single need.
But the smart grid is an entire integration, all about cybersecurity. IP and broadband are all the things that enable that. A lot of these networks are not based on IP and certainly not broadband. We’ll be taking the core technology, the software cell, and explore other technologies as well. We will explore broadband over powerlines. We’re not specifically married to one technology. WiMAX is our first solution, but over time we will offer more.
Q). What’s the promise of WiMAX for the smart grid?
AC: Availability is very important. LTE is not available now. There is not equipment on the premise side yet, and it’s more of a 2012 thing.
Q). What about fiber?
AC: A lot of carriers and utilities have chosen fiber to the house. There are all kinds of options in front of us. Very quickly after this announcement comes out we will be approached by different opportunities and markets. Grid Net will have to pick our battles and our partnerships. Broadband over powerlines is another choice. A key thing that Grid Net has created so far, is the backend software and network management software that can scale to infinity.
Q). Do you see a WiMAX smart grid in the U.S. made up by networks that utilities build on their own or from a national service provider like Clearwire and Sprint?
AC: Currently utilities don’t use public networks for three reasons: 1). Coverage, they’re just not available, and the equipment isn’t placed where people play. 2). Reliability, and 3). Price. So utilities tend to want to build their own networks today. But WiMAX is available in both flavors. Arcadian owns spectrum and have decided to embrace WiMAX, too. As utilities become aware of Grid Net, and as the ecosystem delivers the equipment then they can make a choice. It’s hard to predict the future.
Q). You’ve been in the private sector before, what are some of the key differences to working at a utility? Do you prefer one over the other?
AC: I was Microsoft in the pre-IPO days, Borland just after its IPO, four startups, one on Internet technology and three on telecom between 1990 to 2003. I have experienced the gamut. I’ve done the whole thing from early stage, from three guys in an office to a huge company. I love building things, building products, markets, ecosystems, companies. I built the first smart grid in Austin, with 1 million consumers, and 43,000 businesses, and I have learned and discovered and created a bunch of things. Grid Net has been through a similar journey. I think we are a match made in heaven.
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