Back in May, I wrote about how smart grid technology was getting the short shrift in terms of consumer education. Now, I'm wondering if it isn't being further undermined by high-profile billing errors in California and rejection of smart-meter proposals in Maryland. Smart meters are the smart grid's main point of interaction with the customer, almost like a mascot. If customers don't trust them -- or even know what they are or represent -- it will hamper adoption of the technology.
According to the Consumer Reports Home & Garden Blog, customers in California find the meters hard to read and saw rate increases, rather than decreases, when the meters were installed. While a heat wave and a planned rate increase were factors in the higher bills, smart meters took the brunt of consumer ire.
As for Maryland, the state's public service commission rejected Baltimore Gas & Electric's plan to install more than a million smart meters, citing "financial and technological risks" that can't be justified by potential savings that are currently "largely indirect, highly contingent, and a long way away." The commission says that this isn't a "no-confidence" vote against smart tech's potential, but it certainly does little to help the technology realize that potential.
Consumer Reports and I are on the same page about businesses' obligation to push the smart grid forward. The onus is on electric companies to both educate consumers and minimize problems as best they can (or at least deal with them quickly and honestly) as the technology rolls out. The rollout will continue at a slow pace until consumers -- in homes and especially on public service commissions -- know more about how the technology can save money, reduce energy use, increase service reliability and accommodate alternative energy sources.
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