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Bringing Customers On Board

Realizing the benefits of smart meters.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2009

that educates the consumer and offers online information tools, demand-response programs, and new rate structures that better align decision making with consumption and pricing.

A new relationship : A third complication associated with customer adoption of AMI involves the new relationship the utility has with its customers—and how both sides prepare for it. Utilities must be aware of three critical tenets that drive customer behavior and adoption.

Utilities need to manage the expectations of both customers and internal stewards. Properly designed AMI implementation strategies must include pre-, during-, and post-implementation communications programs. Customers, service technicians, installation vendors, and customer-service representatives all need to understand what can be achieved and, more important, how. If the focus is purely on compliance with policy and regulation, the full potential of AMI likely will be missed.

Internal stewards and business leaders must understand that at the heart of AMI, use of smart metering, and smart-grid programs allows for a reliance upon improved data acquisition, modeling, and decision making—all of which can help improve operations and increase customer satisfaction through improved services. By shifting and reducing loads to flatten spikes in demand, utilities can improve service levels, power quality and offer new rate programs and demand-response programs that lead to optimized energy-supply management, lower system costs, and pricing contractions for customers.

Beyond working out the full mechanics of an AMI program implementation and internalizing the changes customers will experience, the utility must ensure that the AMI value proposition clearly is understood throughout the organization and by the customer.

Customer benefits must be clearly identified for both the immediate and longer-term horizons. Customers need to understand, “what’s in it for me?” While many people genuinely are concerned about societal benefits and their roles in helping to achieve them, customers are much more responsive to the prospect of benefits for themselves.

Finally, the value propositions must be reinforced multiple times and by multiple methods. The selection of various messaging mediums—including focus groups, town-hall meetings, segmentation-specific messaging, field communications during deployment, and ensuing billing statements—should provide continuous reinforcement of goals and objectives, progress, and performance. Clear and insightful information about how demand-response programs work, including calculations of baseline demand levels and capacity reservation charges, can help reinforce how customer performance is measured and benefits are achieved.

Success Factors and Practices

With any major technology or program implementation, especially those associated with disruptive technologies and major transformation efforts, many strategies exist that can make or break the successes experienced both internally and externally. Not all strategies and tactics will have the same result or anticipated results. Following are some suggested approaches that utilities should consider as part of their AMI program implementations to increase the probability of high customer adoptions.

Utilities must understand that a phased approach can yield many more benefits than an all-consuming set of program, process, technology, and communication initiatives all implemented at one time. Proper design, sequencing, and timing of program components all are important.

AMI technology is developing at a quick pace, and vendors constantly are upgrading their products and offerings in response to utility-led