Grid Net Scores Austin Energy CIO for Chief Strategist

Grid Net, the smart meter software startup that’s betting the smart grid will be built around the wireless standard WiMAX, has scored a major hiring coup. This morning the four-year-old firm, led by former Cisco (s CSCO) and Silver Spring Network executive Ray Bell, announced that Austin Energy’s well-known Chief Information Officer Andres Carvallo will join Grid Net as its Chief Strategy Officer.

Carvallo is known for helping Austin Energy deploy one of the first smart grid networks in the U.S., and says he originally coined the term “smart grid” back in April 2007. Before he joined Austin Energy to lead its smart grid efforts he was an exec at a variety of start-ups and larger tech firms including Philips Electronics (s PHG), Digital Equipment Corporation, and Borland and Carvallo started his career as a product manager for Microsoft (s MSFT). So returning to the world of Silicon Valley and technology isn’t such a stretch.

Carvallo’s addition to Grid Net packs a lot of punch. While Grid Net has been making strides as of late, the startup still has a limited number of utility customers and deployments. Grid Net officially launched itself just last October, unveiling its software product and announcing Australian utility customer SP AusNet, as well as a whole host of partners including GE (s GE), Motorola (s MOTO), Cisco, Intel (s INTC), and WiMAX service provider Clearwire (s CLWR). Grid Net has also been reported to be working on pilots with American utilities American Electric Power, and Consumers Energy.

Carvallo’s addition to the startup, more than anything, will help Grid Net convince utility customers that the wireless standard WiMAX could be a good option for their smart grid networks. Carvallo tells us in a phone interview (full Q&A here) that he will be focused on educating his utility peers on Grid Net and WiMAX. For those of you not familiar with WiMAX, it’s a high-speed wireless technology that service providers are using for the next generation of broadband services. It competes with a high-speed wireless technology being deployed by cell phone companies called Long Term Evolution, or LTE. But for the smart grid, WiMAX can offer utilities a lot of bandwidth and could also ultimately be really cheap because it’s an open standard with a growing ecosystem of large manufacturing partners like GE, Motorola and Intel.

Interest in a WiMAX-enabled smart grid has been gaining over the past couple of months. Earlier this month Arcadian Networks, a startup that owns licensed 700-megahertz spectrum across a swath of the American heartland and is selling smart grid services to utilities, told us it had recently started selling a WiMAX-enabled gateway device. Sprint (s S) wants utilities to eventually use the WiMAX network it’s building in partnership with Clearwire for smart grid applications. Utilities like Texas’s CenterPoint Energy, New England’s National Grid and San Diego Gas & Electric have been testing and looking into deploying WiMAX smart grid networks.

It still remains to be seen to what extent utilities will embrace WiMAX for the smart grid. Carvallo told us in an interview that Grid Net will be looking to roll out other services based on broadband technology like possibly broadband over powerlines and fiber. But given WiMAX is Grid Net’s first (and only for now) offering, Grid Net execs, including Carvallo, are placing a lot of their chips on the WiMAX smart grid bet.