Smart meters are laying the groundwork to enable an era of smarter, connected-homes. There’s a huge influx of smart meters being installed – they now cover more than 43 percent of homes across the country, according to the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation.
And this number is expected to increase as grids are updated to increase reliability while driving down costs. Smart meters provide utilities with the infrastructure to deliver new services to customers, like home energy management and demand response programs, in ways that previously weren’t possible.
Yet, as smart meter adoption continues to rise, so does consumer speculation. Many homeowners are still wary of the technology and unsure of its potential benefits. Two of their biggest questions are:
- Will smart meters actually help me lower energy costs and save money?
- How will my personal information be used and is it at risk of being hacked?
To address the first question, consider that any new technology must overcome user resistance to changing their behavior. For the past 100 years consumers have been taught to think of their electricity use in one simple, straightforward way – as a number on their monthly utility bill. With the advent of smart meters that way of thinking is rapidly changing.
Smart meters can inform consumers how much electricity they are using at every hour of the day. And as utilities move toward time of use pricing, this gives consumers real power over the cost of their bill at the end of each month. Think of it in the same way as miles per gallon on a car. When a consumer knows how many miles they can drive per gallon of gas (and some cars now provide that information in real time), they make decisions about their driving habits based on that information. They can control costs by deciding how often they drive, how far, how fast and whether they drive on the highway or back roads.
With smart meters consumers can now make the same types of decisions about their electricity use. But it will take time and guidance from utilities to show consumers how the information smart meters provide can be empowering. In essence, utilities need to change customer thinking about energy use, so they no longer simply take it for granted.
With respect to the second question, about security and privacy, many consumers are under the impression that when a smart meter is installed, they’re opening up a window for hackers and giving their utility a treasure trove of information about their electricity usage, which compromises their privacy. Here again, some education is required.
In reality, utilities have some of the toughest and most stringent security measures built into their network infrastructure, making it difficult for hackers to access consumer information and data. With smart meters the risk of data compromise is very small because the data essentially lives in this purposefully built “Fort Knox” type of infrastructure. It’s important for utilities to communicate the measures they take to bolster security and protect their customers’ information.
What’s more, utilities should explain exactly what the information they collect will be used for, which should be something along the lines of, “to provide accurate billing” or “to help you save energy.” And while it seems obvious, customers need to be reminded by the utility that their data will not be sold to third parties who will hound customers with a string of offers.
Smart meters present a great opportunity for utilities to change customer behavior with regard to their energy use. But it won’t happen without effective communication to address valid customer questions about the technology. Click here to learn more about the North American solutions Wiser Air by Schneider Electric can offer utilities.