Smart meters and time-of-use pricing are always well-read stories because there’s true division within the general public on whether smart meters are consumer-friendly gadgets that encourage conservation or utility-friendly devices that make it easier to gouge consumers. See my story in the Toronto Star from Friday. My take is that electricity prices are going up whether we get smart meters or not, and that smart meters — and the applications they enable — offer households a way to shift and even lower their electricity use to buffer the impact of rising prices. The mistake — and again, just my view — is that smart meters have been improperly marketed to consumers as some kind of sexy wonder tool that will help them lower their bills. Instead, utilities should have downplayed the introduction and simply moved ahead with their installation as part of a less exciting grid modernization play — equivalent to a telecom company upgrading from analog to digital networks so that, down the road, new services can be offered to customers. Customers don’t care about the bandwidth, they just care about the handsets and what they can do.
By positioning smart meters as more of an infrastructure play the cost of deployment can be simply incorporated into annual capital budgets and households are more resigned to the fact that getting the new device is mandatory. Let’s face it, initially smart meters are about helping utilities manage their networks better — i.e. they can pinpoint problems and do more detailed analysis of individual household, neighbourhood, and community power consumption, improving system planning and maintenance operations and preparing utilities for increased distributed generation in their service territories.
By making this seem like some gift to consumers, as has been done, utilities open themselves up to consumers expecting certain results and wanting the option of getting or not getting the smart meter. (more…)