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What Happened in Texas

Evaluating smart meters and public backlash.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2010

as heating and cooling degree days, as well as differences in heating source (gas vs. electric), and structure type (apartments vs. single-family homes), among others, as necessary, to determine whether the installation of a smart meter had any relative impact.

The results of the analyses indicated no statistically significant differences between customers with smart meters and customers with electromechanical meters attributed to the installation and use of advanced meters.

Lessons Learned or Re-Learned

During the course of the independent investigation and evaluation in Texas, certain key points emerged that require special emphasis and continued attention.

Educate Customers on Smart Meter Capabilities and the Deployment Process:

Despite diverse and focused effort by utilities in educating their customers on smart meters, more can be done. Various polls continue to demonstrate the lack of consumer knowledge about what a smart meter is, much less an understanding of the perceived benefits. The consumer backlash in Texas highlighted many of those concerns. However, the quick efforts by the PUCT to address customer concerns and questions about smart meters and any potential link to higher electric bills might have averted more widespread and deeper consumer dissatisfaction in Texas. Customer education activities should be conducted early and often in the deployment process (including before any smart meters are installed) to ensure an understanding of the smart meters’ accuracy and capabilities, as well as potential reasons for fluctuations in electricity bills. That understanding should continue to be reinforced through multiple channels throughout the deployment period.

Design Robust Processes and Controls—and Continuously Improve Them:

Smart meters and smart metering systems are significantly more automated and complex than prior processes and systems. Regardless, smart metering systems still involve significant human interaction to identify, evaluate, analyze, and process information and, as such, there’s a possibility of error and oversight, as well as inconsistencies and deficiencies that can always be improved. It’s important in such systems under development that processes, procedures and controls exist to quickly identify and address issues as they arise, and as those challenges are addressed, that new processes, procedures and controls are implemented to prevent similar issues from recurring. The need for process design, documentation, and training shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the opportunity to build efficiency and accuracy into these new processes. Utilities should focus on developing and honing an iterative process to create, test, and refine procedures and controls around key areas.

Address Meter Communication Issues:

According to a recent poll, communication issues are one of the primary worries that keep many utility CEOs up at night. Rightfully so, as the communication capabilities of smart meters are one of the key selling points of smart meters and the gateway to many of the perceived benefits. During any deployment, smart meters might fail to communicate for a variety of reasons, reasons that might not indicate anything wrong with the meters themselves. However, smart meters with communication issues—especially smart meters that suddenly cease to communicate—should be evaluated quickly as these issues might be symptomatic of more serious issues affecting meter accuracy. In addition, a proactive role in