Thinking Tech

PG&E crowdsources smart meter problems

PG&E crowdsources smart meter problems

Posting in Technology

California regulators drag the utility onto the Web.

The utility has dumped 667 pages of documents about its smart meters onto the Web, after being ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission to make them public "to enhance the Commission and the public's understanding."

As we wrote last week (on the same day, it turns out, that the commission wrote its order), PG&E has been dogged by complaints about higher utility bills from customers who've been forced to get smart meters. So far, over 5 million meters have been installed -- one of the largest installations in the U.S. One customer has sued, the suit has been stayed while the commission investigates the smart meters, and PG&E has denied any problems.

But PG&E backed down -- maybe -- on Monday, when Chief Customer Officer Helen Burt called a press conference, admitted the meters have had some problems and apologized to reporters for hassling them. "Many of our customers felt compelled to reach out to you, the media, because we didn't do a good job of responding to their concerns," she said. "That kind of customer service is unacceptable. We will do a better job of resolving these issues so they don't have to contact you."

I hate to break it to you, PG&E, but lots of people are going to contact you now, even though you've disabled the comment function on your Web site. If they can't comment there, they'll comment here or on your Facebook page or your YouTube site. (The link to your Flickr page is broken).

It's hard to tell from these documents -- four years' worth of summary reports that PG&E has been filing with the commission on smart meter budgets, schedules, deployment progress and anticipated risks -- why some meters (1%, according to PG&E) are having problems.

("Meter deployment stood down to revise processes needed to resolve meter connectivity and read recovery related issues," one page said. )

Burt also refused to answer all questions. "What if people don't want a smart meter?" one reporter asked. She didn't say, although the answer appears to be, "Too bad."

Still, even partial information that's hard to read is better than none. (PG&E has helpfully provided a glossary of acronyms on the last page). Some customers and reporters will take the time to comb through these reports, which PG&E will be posting every month, and they'll probably find more problems than the ones PG&E has already admitted. Gradually, the smart meter installation will improve.

Also, although Burt didn't phrase it this way, most customers so far don't care. PG&E has had fewer than 1,000 complaints since 2006, when the installations started, she said -- yet 23,000 meters were incorrectly installed and generated incorrect bills. That means 22,000 people didn't even notice that their PG&E bills were wrong.

Below are the first of PG&E's smart meter reports. Enjoy.

smartmetercpucreport_051010

Related on Smart Planet:

Smart Electric Meters Explained

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Deborah Gage

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Deborah Gage has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Minnesota Public Radio, Baseline and various magazines and newspapers. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure