Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Post # 13 - California Dreamin'

Pacific Gas &Electric remains in the smart meter hot seat in California, coming in for strong public criticism this week at a hearing before the state Senate’s Select Committee on the Smart Grid. PG&E’s $2 billion smart meter program presently covers over 5 million households and is scheduled to expand to nearly 10 million in 2012. But the program has been dogged by complaints of over-billing based on allegedly inaccurate smart meter data. In response, the California Public Service Commission instituted an audit of the company, with results due in the late summer (see Post # 8)

But while the CPUC waits for the audit results, many PG&E customers remain unhappy – and their state legislators are hearing about it. During the Select Committee’s hearing on April 26th, State Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) said that many customers are still complaining of skyrocketing costs and bill estimates. He told PG&E that "this is a revolt. The tea party has nothing on smart meters in [California’s] Central Valley." Some consumer advocates, such as The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, are calling for a moratorium on PG&E’s smart meter program until the CPUC audit is complete. For its part, PG&E states that 99 percent of the installed meters have performed without problems. (For more on the state Senate hearing this week, see here and here).

As I’ve blogged before, the problems PG&E has experienced are unlikely to kill the smart meter concept in California – the long-term momentum appears just the reverse. For example, Southern California Edison today announced that it will start installing smart meters throughout communities in Orange County as part of that company’s “SmartConnect” program,” with about 5 million total installations scheduled throughout its service area by the end of 2012.

At the same time, the consumer anger referenced by Senator Florez should not be minimized. And this consumer push-back goes beyond the question of roll-out problems at a particular company. As last week’s Accenture study shows (see Post # 12), consumers around the world are by no means convinced that they will benefit from smart technology – though they may have to pay for it. And there is the further problem of what many consumers view as their lack of empowerment and exclusion from the process. For example, a notice from the local utility that someone is coming over to a customer’s house to install a smart meter may often be that customer’s first real exposure to the whole smart meter concept.

No matter the particular issue – the cost of smart appliances, utility recovery of smart grid costs, smart meter privacy – most smart technology discussions (whether before government agencies, at conferences, or on-line) have been among energy and IT insiders. As long as consumers view smart technology as a mandate effectively being imposed by an alliance of government agencies with their own agendas and private companies with their own profit motives, consumers will be in no mood to hear about overall societal benefits.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. The computer idustry loves smart meters because insturmntalities have neither the hardware nor the software to accommodate and interpet this massive influx of new data they never had before. The electricity companies love it because they have automatic disconnection facilities and enormous flexibility in pricing structure while the punters are not only bewildered because they can not see the benefits (nobody is going to stay glued to a wall monitor watching pricing or log on to the 'net to see what's happening) so they are left asking themselves "what is this all about?" I see two other major question surrounding this intrusion. The first is security (for the homeowner - if the meters can read appliances and their usage which unwanted gateways does this open. For example while my power usage on my laptop is being read - does that mean hackers have another avenue for access?) The second is 'rights'. The industry is saddling the consumer with meters they had no say in purchasing let alone choice in models which I might add, are changing almost daily in their features. The electricity distributor just knocks on the door with his trusty screwdriver and meter and screws away for the rest of your life (Sorry, could not resist!)