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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Educating Customers about Smart Meters

Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm has a good piece today about Why the Smart Meter Backlash Story Isn’t Going Away.  Taking her points together (except for “hard times”, which the utilities can’t do much about), it really comes down to poor customer education.  I’ll get back to the “People don’t like PG&E” point later.

In general, the utilities should have answered these questions for their customers before starting the changeover:

  • How does a smart meter help the customer?
  • Are meters read more frequently and/or read at finer intervals?
  • What is being done to protect that data?
  • Will the utility sell that data to others?
  • (How) Will the utility provide that data to the government / law enforcement?
  • How are the meters tested for accuracy?
  • How do we know if my old meter was accurate?
  • Why might my bill change and what do I do if I think there is an issue?

I don’t think it is sufficient to have a bill insert that explains these things.  I have a new PG&E smart meter, and have never seen any literature about the smart meter change.  I was out of town when PG&E came knocking at my door, and again I was away when the installer showed up.  I might be able to go find some of this information on the PG&E site, but my point is that I don’t think I should have to go look for it.

And, I certainly don’t mean to pick on PG&E.  I actually don’t know that “People don’t like PG&E”.  My relationship with them has always been a good one.  For example, some foundation contractors knocked my gas meter out of whack (and left the house with an audible gas leak), PG&E came right away to fix it and turn the gas back on.  No charge, friendly and professional. 

My personal opinion about the reports of inaccuracies is that it has a lot more to do with the meter being replaced than the new meter.  I have talked with others in the utility business who have experienced this over the years (e.g., the customer is complaining about their meter, so we replaced it and now their bills have gone up).  Utilities must know this in the metering department, so why didn’t they lead with this in customer education instead of just hoping it wouldn’t come up?

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