“Courting Customers” is Key in AMI Deployments

I served as legislative & regulatory policy manager at Sempra Energy, parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) in the mid-2000’s and had a hand in drafting the utility’s AMI business case that was approved by the CPUC in 2007. Thus, I am particularly pleased to see the recognition that SDG&E is now getting for becoming, once it installs the last of its remaining 40,000 meters in 2013, the first U.S. utility to complete an AMI deployment across its entire customer base. In an article about SDG&E penned by Kristen Wright that appeared in Electric Light & Power (see link below), I was particularly struck by the emphasis that the utility has placed on educating, or courting, its customers about AMI and the role this has played in the program’s success.

Given the push back that many utilities in the second wave of AMI deployment are experiencing or at least anticipating, there are some solid lessons that can be learned from SDG&E’s experience. Specifically, SDG&E developed a 90/60/30 Day Communications Plan:

  • Ninety days before a smart meter installation: SDG&E informed community leaders that the utility would be installing meters in the area.
  • Sixty days before a smart meter installation: SDG&E set up booths in the community staffed with smart meter leaders and customer service experts.
  • Thirty days before a smart meter installation: The utility mailed letters and phoned customers to remind them about the upcoming installations in their neighborhoods.

The approach probably won’t eliminate the need for a utility to develop an Opt-Out program, as SDG&E has done as well, but it could potentially help to reduce the numbers of resistors that in many instances can seriously thwart or delay AMI implementation. Think of the opposition movements that have impacted other utilities in California, Illinois, and Vermont (just to name a few other states) and it’s easy to see customer education needs to be a significant part of any AMI deployment plan.

Electric Power & Light article can be accessed here:
http://www.elp.com/index/display/article-display/4771979138/articles/utility-automation-engineering-td/volume-17/issue-5/features/sdge-bucket-list-smart-meters.html

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