Utilities across the country are experimenting with various new ways to communicate with customers—from Twitter feeds to text alerts. But few utilities have figured out how to integrate new media...
What Happened in Texas
Evaluating smart meters and public backlash.
and transfer of data recorded by the meter through advanced meter data systems.
Through the development and use of process maps that detailed the procedures and control points in place at each of the TDSPs, as well as through performing in-depth meter-to-bill data flow analyses and meter-to-back-end system verification checks, the independent study was able to provide reasonable assurance that the processes employed by the TDSPs were sufficient to ensure the accuracy and effective deployment of smart meters, and also that the smart meters were successfully communicating with the respective smart metering systems (see Figure 4) .
Cause for Complaint?
The independent smart meter study analyzed a number of customer complaints related to high electric bills, as well as a small number of specific concerns expressed by customers in one of the TDSP’s service areas, to evaluate whether the complaints bore any relationship to the deployment of smart meters and their use in the customer billing process (see Figure 5) . Customer complaints were analyzed in relation to a number of factors including: smart meter deployment; unusual weather or temperature conditions; historical electricity usage; billing cycles and durations; customer billing read type ( e.g., estimated, manual, automatic); and media coverage.
Complaints also were correlated to customers with either smart meters or electromechanical meters in the respective TDSP service territories. It was observed that the frequency of complaints among customers with smart meters and customers with electromechanical meters didn’t change significantly in the first 12 months of smart meter deployment in Texas. However, customer complaints in certain areas of Texas increased significantly during the winter months in Texas at the beginning of 2010.
Upon detailed review however, the higher electricity bills observed in relation to the customer complaints appeared to be due primarily to significant changes in weather and electricity usage last winter. Heating degree days were significantly higher than normal in late 2009 and early 2010, due to an unseasonably cold winter (see Figure 6) . From a heating degree day perspective, the recent winter was more than 56 percent colder on average than the previous year, translating to significantly higher energy usage.
While adverse weather conditions and the resulting increased demand for electricity appeared to explain a large number of the observed higher electric bills in Texas, various other factors also appeared to contribute to the unusually high bills some Texas consumers received. Many of these issues, however, had little to do with the smart meters themselves— e.g., billing differences in some cases were attributable to the length of customer billing cycles from one period to the next, and errors in the use of estimated and manual meter reads following installation of the smart meters.
Smart vs. Electromechanical
A key component of the independent meter study in Texas was to perform statistical analysis on the historical electric usage of customers with smart meters to evaluate whether customers with smart meters experienced different—higher—metered residential kilowatt-hour (kWh) electricity usage than they would have experienced without the smart meter. Significant variations were analyzed ( i.e., regressed) against potential explanatory variables such