One of the keys to a successful smart meter roll out is to engage customers early and follow through with training, training, training, and maybe a little more training. I heard this advice repeatedly as I prowled the aisles at last February’s Distributech conference, frequently accompanied by references to the “Bakersfield fiasco.”
In August, 2009, two years into PG&E’s smooth-sailing Bakersfield, Calif., smart meter rollout, customers started complaining of excessive bills. They pinned the bills on inaccurate smart meters, but a study by PG&E’s regulator exonerated the meters and blamed the high bills on an unusual hot spell that pushed customers into expensive top-tier rates that they’d never seen before. Lawsuits were filed and dismissed but the damage was done: A sprinkling of communities across the U.S. and in Europe have banned smart meters on various grounds ranging from privacy invasion to cancer fears. After Bakersfield, per one Distributech attendee, the domestic electrical industry took a pause on smart meter deployments so they could “assess and correct” its strategy.