LEAN TECH: Smart Meters Not Smart Enough

By Published On: July 9, 2010

California utilities have substantial ground to cover before their customers get full value out of smart meters now being installed in homes and businesses around the state, say a growing chorus of industry experts and observers. Smart meters offer utilities vast potential to engage their customers in energy efficiency and better management of the grid, a power industry leader told the California Public Utilities Commission June 30. The missing link is to create home area networks that allow the meters to control energy using devices, plus provide customers a way to view and use energy consumption and price information, explained Cree Edwards, eMeter board chair and founder. Edwards is among a growing number of observers pressing utilities to take the next step of customer engagement in the roll out of smart meters. Doing so will help fulfill the vision of regulators and utilities that the meters can serve as the centerpiece of a new energy management system. That includes minimizing need for new power plants and grid expansions to lower the energy system’s overall cost. Utilities’ focus to date largely has been on using smart meters to track energy use for billing purposes and turn power on and off remotely. The higher functions of allowing customers to monitor and manage their energy use and to remotely control energy using devices--especially during times of high demand--seems to remain largely a promising glimmer in the future. “As state governments and utility companies develop infrastructure and implementation strategies for smart grids and smart meters, it will be critically important for them to incorporate the voice of the customer in their plans,” according to Jeff Conklin, J.D. Power energy and utility senior director. Conklin was referring to a July 1 J.D. Power study showing that 28 percent of Californians--compared to fewer than one in six across the nation--have some awareness of smart meters. However, the study noted that awareness most effectively translates into satisfaction when customers can use smart meters to track and manage their energy consumption and cost. If used in that way, the meters could cut household energy use by 12 percent, according to a separate study released by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy late last month. “The bottom line here is very simple,” stated Skip Laitner, council economic and social analysis director. “Smart meters in and of themselves are just not smart enough to get the job done for consumers and our economy.” To make them truly smart, they must be of use to the customer, the study concluded.

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