It's Come to This: Citizens Against Smart Meters

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.