PG&E reports on smart meter technology to California Senate panel


Helen Burt,
Senior Vice President &
Chief Customer Officer,
San Francisco, CA, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — May 3, 2010 – In comments to a California State Senate panel last week, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) PG&E senior vice president and chief customer officer Helen Burt outlined findings of the company’s review of its SmartMeter™ technology and assured customers the technology is performing up to industry standards.

In particular more than 99 percent of SmartMeter™ devices were found to be performing exactly as they should – a success rate well within accepted standards, and better than the 97 percent of traditional meters. Indeed the total number of instances where the customer’s SmartMeter™ device was not measuring usage in line with accepted standards was just eight meters out of 5.5 million.

“As a result, we can say with confidence the technology at the heart of the SmartMeter™ program is not only sound – it is a substantial improvement over previous meters,” said Burt, pointing out that no technology is infallible, even those as critical as some medical devices, such as pacemakers, of which approximately 0.14 percent will malfunction.

“While no one would equate the benefits of SmartMeter™ technology with those of a lifesaving medical treatment, they are substantial nonetheless. We should think about technologies like SmartMeter™ devices in a similar way,” continued Burt.

Burt also commented on three other items, all of which are separate and distinct from the meter’s ability to accurately measure usage: the meter’s wireless communications, data storage on the device and human error.

In the case of wireless connection, about one-tenth of one percent of the 5.5 million meters installed had had trouble connecting with the network. In those cases the company fixes them, in the meantime issuing a bill using an estimate based on the customer’s routine energy usage, until the actual usage can be manually retrieved from the meter and the two amounts reconciled.

In this case the SmartMeter™ technology is significantly lowering the number of estimated bills and for example in March, the percentage of SmartMeter™ customers who received an estimated bill was eight times lower than the percentage of customers with traditional meters who received an estimated bill.

In the case of storage in two-tenths of one percent of the meters, the need was found to upgrade the software or replace the meter, when the meter measured usage data correctly, but didn’t retain it. When this occurs, the company fixes the problem and despite the customer being billed for less energy than was used, they are not charged retroactively.

In the case of installation complications, less than one-half of one percent of the 5.5 million meters, in cases, perfectly functioning meters, hadn’t been connected properly and calibrated as they should. When this occurs, the company apologizes to the customer, and corrects it. That includes working to improve training for installers.

“All of these items that I mentioned represent less than one percent of our meters installed to date,” Burt pointed out. “Again, all of these issues have been, and are being, corrected as we find them.”

The panel presentation formed part of the response to a number of customer complaints of high bills with the new smart meters. Recently the Structure Group was selected by the California PUC as an independent evaluator of PG&E’s SmartMeter™ technology (see Structure Group selected as independent evaluator for PG&E smart meters).