The smart grid is supposed to save customers money, not cost them more. Customers in Pacific Gas & Electricity’s San Joaquin service, however, have reported a spike in bills around the utility’s deployment of smart meters. A new independent survey of Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E) initiated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently took a look at this claim.
The survey, conducted by The Structure Group at the behest of the CPUC, independently tested more than 750 smart meters and 147 electromechanical meters and determined that all of the tested smart meters and systems were working accurately and that customer billing matched the expected results. The problem behind the customer complaints, according to the survey, is not a mechanical error, but a human one–more specifically, PG&E’s lack of a human touch.
In reviewing 1,378 electric smart meter complaints, issues were found with PG&E’s customer service management and best practices. Customer questions regarding smart meters and individual customer usage patterns were apparently not effectively addressed by PG&E–and in some cases, customers experienced multiple canceled bills followed by re-billing, which exacerbated confusion and frustration. Customers also reported a lack of communication and notification from PG&E about their smart meter installation.
This news comes amidst a number of issues with PG&E’s smart meter program, with public concerns ranging from perceived adverse health effects to information disclosure. As utilities in other regions of the country prepare to roll out similar technology, they may be wise to heed the words of California Commissioner Nancy E. Ryan, via a recent statement: “The Structure report makes clear that the transition to a Smart Grid is not just a technological event. Consumers won’t fully realize the many potential benefits of Smart Meters and other grid upgrades unless utilities and regulators place more emphasis on the human side of the equation,” she said. “Better communication and customer service will help ensure that consumers see Smart Meters as something that is done for them, not to them.”