Electric Companies' Task to 'Sell' Smart Grid to Consumers

John Storts

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.


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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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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 6, 2010 5:54 PM Larry Fisher Larry Fisher  says:

The Maryland Public Services Commission denial of Baltimore Gas & Electric's smart grid proposal was more rooted in the utility's attempt to get end-users to pay the full price of buying and installing the meters, when the government is putting up hundreds of millions of dollars to help it happen. The utility was projecting a modest profit over the whole project, while people would have to start paying for their meters two years before they ever seen the meters, or any benefit. It's not inappropriate for the PSC to ask BGE to share the risk with its customers.

Aug 7, 2010 12:02 PM Smart Meter Marketing-Jeff Weiser Smart Meter Marketing-Jeff Weiser  says:

The smart grid business cases can be tough.  One "incremental" solution are point to point public wireless networks (GSM, CDMA,etc) that enable "mini-ami" networks to be set up to deal with parts of the service territory initially to prove the business case.  Rather than hundreds of millions up front, rate payers get to see tangible results over time & then once the value is apparent, the utility is able to proceed with larger scale deployment.


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