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This November, I asked Scott Smith, Vice President of Global Technical Architecture for meter data management company eMeter Corporation how utilities would handle the influx of data coming their way after smart meter installations.
According to Smith, finding the data storage and communications hardware to provide the necessary functions is not the biggest obstacle facing utilities in a smart meter project. The telecommunications industry has already covered the difficulties with high speed data transmission and large data storage requirements far exceeding what is needed.
The challenge, says Smith, is that utilities have to move away from the “historical model” of thinking about Smart Grid implementations from a hardware perspective. Instead, utilities need to be thinking about Smart Grid projects from a marketing (i.e. consumer relations) standpoint and from a business process perspective.
For comparison, let’s look at the smart meter rollouts of Toronto Hydro in Ontario, Canada and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) in California.
Toronto Hydro focused on developing its business plan around customer communication, implementing a time-of-use pricing model and effective use of the Smart Grid data. The strategy won the company three awards, including the Outstanding Achievement in Marketing and Communications Award from the Association for Energy Service Professionals in May 2010 for its smart meter project.
On the other hand, PG&E simply dealt with its smart meter project from the beginning as an infrastructure change. As a result, the lack of customer outreach has caused a customer relations nightmare for the utility. This has resulted in thousands of complaints and even a lawsuit in Bakersfield that claimed the new smart meters were not reliably reporting actual electricity use.
According to Smith, the difference is not that Toronto Hydro implemented a better system technologically, (although to be fair eMeter is the MDM for the Toronto Hydro Smart Grid project). The difference is that Toronto Hydro took pains to ensure that the business process and customer relations were in place to properly handle the transition to implementing its Smart Grid technologies before the first smart meter was even attached to a house.
-By Norman Dechampes, analyst for SBI Energy and author of ‘The Smart Grid Utiltiy Data Market’