Can Opower fix any of those pesky smart meter customer relation woes? The Arlington, Va.-based startup has two new utility customers, both of which have faced some hurdles with their smart meter deployments: California’s Pacific Gas & Electric, and Maryland’s Baltimore Gas & Electric.
The deal with PG&E isn’t exactly a surprise — we reported our hunch that OPower was working with PG&E back in November. But a Dow Jones VentureWire report this morning gave more details, including the fact that PG&E intended to roll out the Opower service to about 5 million electricity customers, most of whom now have the utility’s smart meters in place.
As for BG&E, the utility plans to eventually roll out Opower as the “front end solution” to the smart meters it’s giving to all 1.2 million of its residential and small business customers over time, the companies announced Thursday.
Both PG&E and BG&E have struggled with their smart meter deployments, though in different ways. PG&E, of course, has already installed nearly 8 million of the 10 million smart meters it has planned, but has faced complaints (from overcharging to the claim that wireless smart meters cause health problem) and an investigation showed PG&E failed to do adequate customer outreach. More recently, the utility has been ordered to offer an opt-out plan for customers who fear the radios inside the wireless smart meters are health risks.
BG&E has faced a different challenge in its $835 million, 1.2 million smart meter rollout. Last year, the Maryland Public Service Commission ordered the utility to take more of the cost burden of the smart meter rollout upon itself, rather than passing the rates through to customers, after declaring that BG&E’s plan didn’t make clear just how smart meters would drive down customer costs enough to justify the extra charges on their bills.
Opower should be able to help with both circumstances, since it doesn’t need smart meters to work with customers. Its main communications channel with customers is through mailed bill inserts that give energy information and tips on how to save energy, though it does also work through web sites, and is considering other in-home device options.
It sounds awfully old-fashioned compared to the smart meter-to-home networked energy dashboards, devices and automation platforms being pitched by startups and giants like GE and Cisco. But Opower has gotten some of the most successful energy reduction results in the industry and says it can regularly drive 2 to 4 percent efficiency improvements, which has delivered more than 200 GW-hours in verified energy savings so far.
Investors and utilities seem to like Opower’s approach. The company has raised $65 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Accel Partners and New Enterprise Associates, and its customer list now stands at 55 utilities with about 10 million homes getting the startup’s service.
In the process, Opower has gotten its hands on a lot of meter data, whether from smart meters or “dumb” old-style electromechanical meters. Opower now has access to data from 43 million meters, and is doing about 56 billion meter reads a year, according to Om Malik’s latest report on the startup.
Opower’s Alex Laskey will be speaking with Control4 CEO Will West and myself at our third annual Green:Net event on April 21 in San Francisco. Silver Spring Networks will also be hosting a panel on smart energy communities featuring PG&E.
Image courtesy of Mark Florence via Creative Commons license.