My PG&E bill arrived, and to the disappointment of the litigants and legal team assembled against PG&E, Landis+Gyr and Silver Spring Networks, it was not a shocker.   No, just like all my bills since my smart meter was installed in June 2009, the bill is accurate.   My electricity use is actually down from last year, I am pleased to report.   (Note to all readers:  put your home electronics and home computers on power strips with kill switches to completely cut off electricity when not in use, and you’ll see a drop in electricity consumption too.)  

I reviewed community websites and posts about PG&E’s smart meters and have a few New Year’s resolutions to suggest to PG&E and other utilities planning smart meter rollouts:

– Learn from PG&E’s sad tale – utilities must develop a thorough communication plan as part of a Consumer Enlightenment Model that explains the benefits of smart meters to ratepayers.  There is a tremendous amount of genuine confusion about the beneficial impacts of smart meters for consumers.  Many consumers have the impression that smart meters are great for utilities, but just an additional expense for ratepayers.   Utilities must communicate the “What’s in it for me?” messages tailored for residential consumers.   

– Part of the Consumer Enlightenment Model’s communications plan must include a statement that an old electromechanical meter can slow down over time, possibly resulting in under-billing in the past.  Therefore, when a smart meter is installed, it may be the first accurate reading of electricity consumption in many years.  One irate consumer reported that his electricity bill for a family of four jumped from $20 to $80 per month – therefore the smart meter was inaccurate.  I’d say the old meter was inaccurate since he’s not supplying any of his own electricity from solar, and $5 of electricity usage per person per month is awfully low for PG&E rates. 

– Provide communications training to their field resources and any subcontractors installing meters.  That training must cover the talking points about the benefits of a smart meter from the ratepayer’s perspective.   Telling consumers that smart meters will eliminate meter readers jobs is an accurate but insensitive statement to make during a recession with high unemployment.   

– Examine customer service scripts to deal with customer calls about increased bills.   A review of all call flows in customer care centers is in order to ensure that callers receive a smooth handoff from one department to another and strive to achieve “first call” satisfaction.

That old Ben Franklin saying about “for want of a nail, a shoe was lost” seems appropriate every time this litigation story comes up.  Lacking upfront, convenient, and accurate information about smart meters or any other visible and disruptive technology, ratepayers will seize upon misinformation, substitute opinion for fact, and develop attitudes (about utilities and smart meters) that will be difficult and expensive to change, slow down rollout plans and inflict damage on other Smart Grid initiatives.

Are you interested in learning more about the Smart Grid?  There are two opportunities coming up in early 2010.  The ITExpo will host its first Smart Grid Summit from January 20-22 in Miami, Florida.   The Grid ComForum Conference and Exhibition is scheduled for February 2-3 in Santa Clara, California.   See the events sidebar for more information.