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Improving consumer sentiment for smart meters


Smart meters, once believed to be readily acceptable to regulators, utilities, and consumers, are no longer the same due to growing skepticism about smart meters for health, privacy, and security issues. Every utility is now facing the challenge on how to ensure smooth transition from a legacy to a smarter utility. While utilities know the importance of moving towards smarter utilities, reluctance by consumers is causing the regulators to choose the middle path, often by, either delaying the smart meter rollout or introducing newer policies (opt out rule), which is aggravating the situation even more. Research organizations have identified consumer backlash for smart meters as one of top trends in utility industry in the coming years.

Consumer Queries

Some of the issues consumers have reported so far include

  1.  Health hazard from smart meter radiation

  2.  Privacy issues due to granular data in smart meter

  3.  Security issues by unauthorized access to smart meter

  4.  Higher bills resulting from smart meter installation

  5. Consumers have to pay additional money in order keep a legacy meter in place of smart meter - opt out rule. They are already paying for smart meters using the rates cases anyways.

and others.


Resolution to Consumer Queries

Each of these problems can be resolved or explained, like

  1. Certification of smart meter radiation under permissible range or by use of PLC technologies

  2.  Utilities always have statistical energy usage information of their consumers and other confidential information. Protecting this data through adequate security measure is important here.

  3.  Improved security features within smart meters with high degree encryption and key based communication.

  4.  Replace an old legacy meter with a new legacy meter or smart meter. Both the new legacy meter and smart meter should provide same usage and thereby bills. This may be higher than the previous bills as the old legacy meter tend to run slow in favor of consumers due to wear and tear over the years.

  5.  Implementing newer ways of meter reading like instructing consumers to send their reading through an IVR/online/mail-in solution once a month. Off course, periodic checks and balances need to be in place to make it full proof. This can at least reduce the cost of utility meter reading for legacy meters and thereby cost recovery for opt out rule.

Consumer Awareness through 'Smart Meter Consumer Analytics'

But, explaining these problems is a reactive approach rather than a proactive approach to consumer engagement. Consumer engagement needs to start well before one sees a smart meter in their home. This can be done leveraging analytics commonly related to consumers or what they will be interested in. Some of these "Smart Meter Consumer Analytics" can be

  1. How much dollar can you (consumer) save by participating in a demand response event (ex. Peak Time Rebate)?

  2. What will my bill look like at the end of the month?

  3. How soon can we (utilities) know about a 'bad' meter and replace it even before you notice its impact in your bill?

  4. How soon can we get you connected when you move in a new apartment?

  5. What is your usage during on-peak and off-peak hours over the day/week/month/year with appliance level information?

  6. What is the correlation between your usage and weather data through-out the day/week/month/year?

  7. How much carbon emission we have reduced by calling a peak time rebate event with % participation and what we could achieve by 100% participation?

  8. How much outage hours was reduced using automated notification from smart meters?

and there can be many more.

Most of these consumer oriented questions can be categorized as follows.

All of these information need be passed on to the consumers, and should be arrived from real case studies with specific data obtained from the smart meter implementation by different utilities. These information need to be accompanied by a comparative analogy with that of legacy meter.

Adding the 'Smart Meter Consumer Analytics' pie for consumer engagement

A planned approach towards consumer engagement starts from within the utilities. Adequate change management to fully understand the smart metering and related changes is the first step. Thereafter it need to start consumer engagement using widely reached tools like bill inserts, mass marketing, kiosk, bill boards, etc. A phased communication approach aligned with the smart metering rollout is also necessary to provide meaningful communication to everyone. Smart Metering Rollout usually happens in these phases, i.e. Smart Meter Pilot Smart -> Meter Roll Out -> Billing through Smart Meter -> Smart Meter Programs. Using Smart Meter Consumer Analytics in these communications will definitely be helpful in boosting consumer sentiments. Call centers/portals need to be equipped with these analytics to answer any consumer queries related to these analytics. Smart Meter Consumer Analytics is an advantage that should be leveraged by a utility that has started venturing into the smart metering area.

A consolidated view of the approach is provided below.


The problem described here is a very common risk of conservatism towards adoption of newer technologies. I still remember how reluctant I was to use internet banking at the beginning. But the drivers of smart metering are urgent and important and much more serious than internet banking. Depleting non-renewable energy resources, increasing demand, uncertainty in renewable integration, lack of adequate power storage is providing enough fuel for the utilities to implement this smart meter infrastructure. So it requires support from all the stakeholders, which can be achieved through a planned knowledge management.

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Huge assumptions here. Education is not the problem, benefits are the problem.

Consumers never wanted variable rates and never wanted to make their use of electricity more complicated or costly. It was assumed that tech-savvy consumers would embrace the smart meter and find fabulous new ways to enhance their use of energy. No one had any concrete ideas about how to do anything other than use less energy or shift energy use to off-peak hours.

Less energy is not a benefit to consumers. Shifting use to off-peak hours is not a benefit to consumers - it is a CHORE. Higher rates to pay for using less at less convenient times is not a benefit to consumers.

In this context, since the consumer-killer-app of smart meters has not materialized, and the costs and complexity of deployments has hit home, regulators and utilities are having their own reality-check about the benefits of more projects.

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Firstly, what's in it for the customer..? 1) Monopoly utilities have a rate increment for the metering,reading, bill computation, printing, mailing, etc. Ask the PSC to allow ME, the customer, to read my meter with a smart phone pic (dated) or an app to transmit my usage to the billing dept. Email me the billing (or direct me to a website) and let ME take the avoided costs as a discount on my service. (Ok, I'll settle for 90% of avoided costs..) 2) ANYTHING else, and I let the paper bills and readers on foot bleed costs for the next century. (..and I worked 35 yrs for utilities and own a LOT of IOU stock.)

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M. Gordon-Byrne makes a good point, saying about present smart meter implementations " No one had any concrete ideas about how to do anything". Indeed, without providing customers timely data on their current consumption and coincident market conditions, what was expected that customers would do? Given the crudeness of the market design in use (continuous TOU with no reference to actual necessity) it is not surprising that the incentives offered occur far too frequently and are nowhere near large enough to have any meaningful result.

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For everyone considering further supporting payments to customers who implement demand control using a TOU metering strategy, you should note that, of all the money spent reducing rates at night, or collected increasing rates during the day, pretty much all of it (the part paying peaking generator companies capital costs rather than fuel and O&M) is wasted unless it causes a reduction of peak below the maximum peak over the next ten years. Calculate or estimate the maximum 1 hour grid peak during the next ten years, make payments or penalties during times to keep the peak a fixed target amount below that, and ignore ALL other times.

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Smart meters are nothing more than a "Trojan Horse" for unloading risk onto the customer (i.e. time-of-use rates). There is no value in the meters for the consumer which is the reason for the fierce opposition. Anybody that believes otherwise is not very observant or simply part of the Utility business and clearly not an advocate for the customer.

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