Smart meters meet the public: the importance of educating and engaging customers

Fri, 2015-05-15 06:00 -- SCC Staff

 

By Jenny Roehm
Schneider Electric

In a digital world, where more devices than ever are connected and consumers want information right at their fingertips, home energy management solutions are a way to take control of their home energy use with the swipe of a finger or the click of a mouse. Meanwhile, they provide an enormous opportunity for utilities to ensure grid reliability, manage growing numbers of distributed energy resources, and cut down on operating costs.

Smart meters lay the groundwork to enable an era of smarter, connected-homes. The smart meter market is growing rapidly fueled by utilities’ push to enhance distribution efficiency, a rise in smart grid deployment and changes in government policy. There’s a huge influx of smart meters being installed. According to the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation, smart meters now cover over 43% of homes across the U.S. This number is expected to increase as grids are updated to increase reliability while trying to drive down costs.

Consumers still wary
Yet a large number of mainstream consumers are still wary of connected-home devices -- from smart meters to smart thermostats and smart locks -- and don’t fully understand what they are, how they work, and why they should want them. They raise valid concerns. Will smart meters and time-of-use electricity prices result in higher bills for homeowners? Will they present new security risks?

Utilities are well-positioned to engage with their customers to address these concerns and demonstrate how these types of devices could help them save money, and even potentially make their lives more convenient and their homes more comfortable.

Smart meters pay for themselves
Studies have shown smart meters pay for themselves, which utilities can highlight in social media or email interaction with customers. In addition to cost concerns, customers are afraid of the new technology being imposed on them without their say, so showing customers how they can take advantage of this information -- and what’s in it for them -- will go a long way toward allaying any fears.  Customers are much more willing to share information -- in this case in the form of smart meter data -- if they understand how they will benefit.  And then giving customers the choice of opting out of smart meter programs will encourage greater trust.

Customers also need to understand how smart meters work to understand their privacy is not at risk during the collection of data. Utilities can prove this by being transparent about how data is stored and the safety measures in place to keep customer identities safe.

Through open communication, hard facts and figures and positioning themselves to be active listeners, utilities can implement smart meter technology with open arms from customers. The result will be more reliable, cost-efficient energy for the masses while enabling exciting new solutions and services for customers to manage their energy more efficiently and conveniently.

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Jenny Roehm is the Senior Manager of Utility Residential Solutions at Schneider Electric, with a passion for bringing smart energy-saving solutions to utilities and their customers. She has over 20 years of experience working with utilities and facilitating open communication with the public. Schneider Electric is a Council Lead Partner.