Focus on the customer


Debra Reed,
President and CEO,
SDG&E and SoCalGas
San Diego, CA, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — April 22, 2008  – Smart meters can be expected to transform the customer experience, but customers must see their value, or the boat will have been missed stated Debra Reed, president and CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company, in the opening keynote at Metering, Billing/CIS America 2008.

Commenting that in her view, at least during her career, little has had the same impact on customers as smart meters can, Reed said she was excited by the potential of smart meters and their implementation was much more than simply an “infrastructure project.”

Reed said that in SDG&E’s rollout, which was in pilot phase, the goal was to offer customers the three “Cs” – choice, control and convenience, with features such as outage management and remote connect and disconnect.

“Consider the possibility of being able to send a message to customers telling them there is an outage and how it is being handled, or enabling a customer who is moving to call in to request a discontinuation of service, and it will change the way customers see the value.”

However, Reed cautioned, the approach to customers must be participatory, rather than “big brother,” and that it is critical that the data that smart meters carry must be secure and not openly accessible.

Also she noted, while it is necessary in a smart meter rollout to offer some features upfront, the long term must be borne in mind with the possibility of adding new functionality over time.

For example again in SDG&E’s case customers are not only interested in their energy footprint but are now also becoming interested in their greenhouse gas footprint and such information may be provided on more sophisticated in-home displays.

A similar sentiment was echoed by David O’Brien, president and CEO of Toronto Hydro, in the opening plenary, who said that there had been extensive outreach to customers prior to the installation of smart meters and that this had earned the company extensive goodwill.

“All the changeouts have been done by company crews rather than being contracted out and they have been very customer focused.”

O’Brien also unveiled a new interactive website that Toronto Hydro has developed and is piloting, showing information on customer electricity usage. This has received a good response from customers, some of whom visit the site several times a day.

With 450,000 smart meters installed to date Toronto Hydro has the largest installed base in Canada, if not in North America.

Smart Energy International’s 9th Metering, Billing/CIS America included sessions on data and connectivity, network and grids, customer service and demand response, as well as a dedicated water track. The closing session focused on “Where to from here?” and solicited participant feedback on key smart metering issues.