HBR on the Smart Meter Backslide

Reality check: Imagine you’re a utility about to transition to smart meters across your territory. You assume that most people understand, and embrace, the associated benefits. After all, you’re handing customers the power to purchase electricity when it’s cheapest. And over time, that spread in demand will reduce prices. Easy sell, right?

Not exactly, says Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, author of Smart Power: Climate Change, the Smart Grid and the Future of Electric Utilities. In a recent post for the Harvard Business Review, Fox-Penner describes the recent and unexpected consumer backlash to smart meter deployment. Debates in California, Texas and Maryland are examples.

In those states, consumers and stakeholders feel they weren’t asked about smart meter technology, and were left with no choice.  Some of their concerns:

  • Utilities are simply using smart meters as a cover to raise prices
  • Low income customers will be disconnected too easily and readily
  • Vast amounts of consumer data on energy use presents privacy and security concerns

Insurmountable barriers? Probably not. We’ve blogged about this issue in previous posts, and the refrain bears repeating. As Fox-Penner says, “If you are changing your relations with customers and spending their money, engage them first! Let customers validate the new benefits themselves. Make them your partners, not your guinea pigs.”

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind, as the energy industry continues through an era of rapidly changing products, services, and business models.