San Francisco, CA, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — September 3, 2010 – Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s residential smart meters are consistent with industry standards and are performing accurately, but the company’s practices with respect to customer service and complaint handling processes are partially non-compliant relative to industry best practices.
These are among the conclusions of a 414 page report from the Structure Consulting Group on an independent testing of the smart meters, which yesterday was handed to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
Structure was selected by the CPUC in March to perform an independent evaluation of PG&E’s smart meters, following the receipt of more than 600 complaints about high bills and allegations that the new smart meters were not accurately recording electric usage.
PG&E launched its smart meter deployment program in 2007 and by June 2010 had deployed more than 3.1 million electric smart meters and almost the same number of gas smart meters.
The tests conducted by Structure included both laboratory and field tests on a total of 767 smart meters and 147 electromechanical meters, as well as end-to-end system testing to determine the effectiveness of the SmartMeter and billing systems’ efficacy to capture meter data information. In addition a high bill complaint analysis on 1,378 bills was conducted, as was a security assessment.
From the testing Structure concluded that the smart meters are accurately recording electric usage at present, and the systems are correctly processing data and billing usage. It was also confirmed there were no systemic issues found since smart meter deployment, beyond the limited exceptions that had already been reported by PG&E.
From the bill complaint analysis, Structure identified multiple factors that appeared to contribute to the escalation of smart meter high bill complaints during late 2009 and early 2010. These included the coincidence of meter deployment schedules with increased energy usage caused by a heat wave, electromechanical meter degradation, rate increases, failure to address early or effectively customer skepticism regarding the new technology, and insufficiently stringent system tolerances related to billing quality control.
Based on a review of PG&E’s documentation of operational and deployment policies, processes, and procedures against a framework of industry best practices, Structure concluded that the company had been historically in compliance, or had recently come into compliance, with many industry best practices associated with smart meters, though certain practices were partially non-compliant.
From the security assessment, Structure concluded that PG&E has developed a cyber security framework that is compliant with industry best practices.
Commenting on the report, CPUC president Michael Peevey said he was happy to hear that PG&E’s smart meters are functioning properly, but was disturbed by the company’s lack of customer service and responsiveness.
"I hope these findings help ease minds about the accuracy of smart meters,” said Peevey, adding that the PUC would ensure that PG&E improves its customer service, as well as continuing to improve its own complaint handling processes.
For its part PG&E has welcomed the release of the report. In a statement PG&E senior vice president and chief customer officer Helen Burt commented: “We are pleased that the Structure Group’s detailed analysis confirms the integrity of our meter program and provides assurance to customers that our meter readings are accurate. We also agree with its criticism of our failure to address customer concerns on a timely basis, and have taken steps to address that real shortfall in our program."
Among these, earlier this week PG&E established a technical advisory panel to help guide the project rollout and ensure it follows best practices for customers.