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Summary:

The backlash against the smart meters installed in Texas by utility Oncor doesn’t seem to be dying down. Actually the protesters are getting more organized and turning to social media. A group called Smart UR Citizens — whose members describe themselves as “a group of Texas […]

The backlash against the smart meters installed in Texas by utility Oncor doesn’t seem to be dying down. Actually the protesters are getting more organized and turning to social media. A group called Smart UR Citizens — whose members describe themselves as “a group of Texas citizens that are fighting the unrealistic utility charges which we believe are caused by the Smart Meter” — has a new web site, an online petition, an intro video and an online survey, and is inviting community members to submit videos and comments about their experiences.

The small group is also holding rallies outside of Oncor’s headquarters and using social media to get the word out. Dallas Morning News reporter Elizabeth Souder reported in the newspaper’s blog Texas Energy and Environment yesterday that the group was supposed to hold a rally Thursday afternoon — as she put it: “The protesters will be the ones waving red shop flags.”

Oncor seems to have been making a variety of attempts to address the smart meter backlash. The utility has been releasing information about weekly tests in local areas, including OakCliff, Temple and Killeen.

But utilities are still trying to figure out the best way to communicate to these types of customers about transitioning to smart meters. As this IDC Energy Insight report say, utilities “have not thought through the implications of new technology and products on customer relationships or the business process.” In other words, utilities are not at all prepared for the increased amount of communication, education and interactivity that will be required from installing new smart grid technology.

The Internet will actually be the utilities’ best way to communicate with the customer. As Pedro put it on GigaOM Pro (subscription required), online social media can “let utilities steer the conversation in the months leading up to a smart meter rollout and serve as a supplement to other educational and outreach efforts.”

But only 60 percent of the utilities surveyed in the IDC report have a web site designed to serve consumers. Very few are looking at live chat, said the report. More important is email communication, and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Regardless of whether or not utilities increase their outreach via the Internet, clearly their customers, and those like the citizens that oppose the smart meters, will be using the Internet to reach out to the utility.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Smart Meters: Time for a Customer Service Reboot

Image courtesy of juverna’s photostream Flickr Creative Commons.

By Katie Fehrenbacher

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  1. It still comes down to consumers being promised lower charges because of technological advances – receiving higher bills – and presuming some kind of bait-and-switch is in progress.

    The first response I received from folks involved with this process is that they feel that Oncor wants to use the process to maximize profits by getting consumers to alter their usage behavior. At best, billing might get back to previous after a lot of changes, e.g., like doing your laundry at 2 AM.

    Would that surprise anyone?

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  2. [...] disgruntled backlash over the installation of smart meters in a couple communities in the U.S. (currently Bakersfield, [...]

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  3. [...] disgruntled backlash over the installation of smart meters in a couple communities in the U.S. (currently Bakersfield, [...]

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  4. Walter Sobchak Thursday, March 25, 2010

    I think people are right to be afraid of smart meters. Sure, smart meters can be used by to create a market driven world of energy abundance. But, they can also be used as instruments of social control.

    The current insane clown posse in Washington is no doubt salivating at the thought that smart meters could be used to limit consumption of electricity generated by evil fossil fuels and as a remedy for the inherent limitations of solar and wind power. Sun goes down? Wind dies down? No power for the grid? Easy. Use the smart meters to turn off consumption, everywhere but the houses of Al Gore, Tom Friedman, and the other folks on Arne Duncan’s list. http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/2010/03/24/its-for-the-children/

    I will consider smart meters to be a positive development after the last lawyer is strangled with the entrails of the last environmentalist. Until then smart meters are like guns and sharp swords in the hands of small children.

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  5. @Eideard, I agree with you that the perception is that technological advances should offer consumers lower bills. If you equate the installation of Smart Meters to the installation of TV Cable Boxes, the utilities should form partnerships with Smart Meter companies so that much like TV Boxes by manufacturers like MOTOROLA (the cable boxes are NOT free rather subsidized for 24 bundled up on the different packages so when we receive our cable bill, we don’t see it). Why? So that this transaction to new technologies does not seem so costly to the consumer.
    In addition, the same co-op concept needs to be applied for companies that have a vested interest in the SMART GRID. Utilities should create partnerships with equipment companies that have a vested interest in expediting contracts to build the SMART GRID. By creating a co-op marketing budget that the utilities can manage, there will be more funds to create on-going initiatives to educate consumers on the positive aspect of having a new grid regardless of the type of energy consumption…. There is a company, OPower doing something of this sort but in addition, Utilities and other companies that will benefit from this change should create more of an nationwide campaigns through say ie: Billboards, Teasers, door hangers, consumer events, etc showing customers the positive news that this transition will have on everyone.

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  6. @Walter Sobchak, I must respectfully disagree with your comment as far as “social control.” What is the difference with utilities shooting off your power right now if they wanted to? I mean, today industries such as banking (on-line banking) and TV industry, internet to mention a few have, been revolutionized by technological advancements. And yes, while there are pros and cons to advancements, To live more efficiently because we have the means and technological advancements to do so, seems a natural course of action. I must agree with you on the “HOW” this transition is made and who benefits from it….lawyers, lobbyists, etc….

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  7. [...] It’s Come to This: Citizens Against Smart Meters The small group is also holding rallies outside of Oncor’s headquarters and using social media to get the word out. [...]

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