O.K., o.k., the smart grid isn't perfect. As one of my readers exuberantly contended in a phone call several weeks ago, smart meters have been drawing complaints from customers seeing inexplicable price spikes.
Now Pacific Gas & Electric admits 23,000 customers may have gotten bad billing from the new gizmos. Releasing a whole batch of reports on its smart meters yesterday, PG&E says it has "identified 'issues' related to wireless communication, data storage, meter installation, and accuracy." Says PG&E VP Helen Burt:
Presented in detail, the information here reaffirms the facts we previously outlined for customers: that more than 99 percent of the SmartMeter™ devices we have installed are performing exactly as designed. This is a success rate that represents a significant advance over traditional meter technology, delivering more accurate bills to our customers along with more detailed information about their energy use [PG&E press release, 2010.05.10].
Smart meters may perform more reliably than the old metal spinner screwed to your house, but the inaccuracy in old meters is more often like the inaccuracy of old watches: they run slow, meaning the inaccuracy is in the customer's favor.
As is often the case with computers, smart meter glitches may be PEBMAT: Problem Exists Between Meter And Truck. Texas utility Oncor has installed nearly 800,000 smart meters, and in March it acknowledged that 7600 were installed incorrectly.
Customers and companies can resolve inaccurate billings and installation screw-ups. A bigger problem, notes CNET, comes when we install smart meters but don't give customers the tools to take advantage of them. A smart meter isn't just a new black box that we tack on the back of the house and mostly ignore. The real advantage comes when homeowners and businesses get the software to monitor and act on all the information the smart meter can provide about electric usage and rates.
But hey: we mostly traded horses for Model T's; we'll likely trade mechanical meters for smart meters. We'll figure out the problems, we'll create the customer service rules... and maybe we'll save a little energy.
p.s.: Midwest ISO is installing synchrophasors to turn the whole Midwestern transmission system into a smart grid. The synchrophasors will, among other things, make it easier for the grid to handle variable power sources like wind power.
pp.s.: Nuts! Microsoft is getting into smart meters. Get ready for the blue screen of death... on your microwave!