Poor smart meters. Over the past year or so, some high-profile debacles have made them gadgets non grata in some communities, most notably in Bakersfield, California and parts of Texas. Worse, this dark cloud is endangering smart grid roll-outs in other areas. The cause: confusing rate changes, human error and/or meters that were too accurate for their own good. No one can blame customers that were suddenly faced with jaw-droppingly high bills to revolt against the newly-installed smart meters and the utilities that foisted them onto their homes.
It’s been downright painful to watch utilities try to put a positive spin on things, but there’s hope. Heather Clancy at CleanTech Pastures takes a look at two organizations that can help utilities shake off the smart meter stigma and do right by consumers. The first is OPOWER, a startup that uses a dash of stealth crowdsourcing to promote energy efficiency. Clancy writes:
OPOWER, a company that offers Home Energy Reports to consumers via a Web portal or via good old snail mail, reports that a Minnesota deployment of its service in conjunction with Minnesota-based utility Connexus has demonstrated a 2.1 percent reduction in residential energy consumption, which is a $1 million savings for Connexus customers.
Similar results were reported by the PowerCentsDC project, which recruited 900 Washington DC area residents for a test of the effectiveness of three different rate structures (they got to pick). Encouragingly, about 90 percent of the participants saved money as a result.
The lesson for utilities is to drive the savings angle home, relentlessly. Somewhere in the rush to roll out smart meters, utilities forgot to answer the question that matters most to consumers: “What’s in it for me?” It’s a symptom of an industry that lags on the customer service front, and frankly, has lost touch. (Newsflash: If the only contact you have with your customers is the monthly bill, you’re behind the times and they’ll let you know it in more public mediums.)
So to answer the titular question, yes, we can turn the corner. And OPOWER and PowerCentsDC are among those showing us how.
Image credit: CC Mark Florence – Flickr