Despite all the information about smart meters that electric utilities provide to encourage customers to participate in managing their energy costs, utilities still face challenges to smart meter introduction. These findings are from the 2012 J.D. Power and Associates Smart Pulse and Customer Engagement Strategies studies.

The two studies were conducted among residential utility customers who had smart meters installed. They examined key customer engagement indicators, such as smart grid and smart meter awareness levels, smart meter installation satisfaction levels, and customer adoption levels of products and services.

As many North American utilities have rolled out smart meters, customers and the media have responded with both enthusiasm and concern. Customer perception challenges exist not only with the smart meter technology but also with how well utilities communicate the new meters’ benefits.

Thirty-six percent of customers surveyed were unaware of any smart meter efforts made by their utility company, while the remaining 64 percent were aware of some effort, whether regarding the smart grid, smart meters only, or both smart grid and smart meters. Not all utility companies excelled in raising awareness of their smart meter efforts. There was a gap of 56 percentage points between the highest and lowest levels of customer awareness.

The method by which customers receive information from their utility also affected both awareness levels and sentiment toward their utility. Among customers who received smart meter information through text message or the utility’s blog, more than 50 percent said they had a more positive opinion of their utility than those who did not receive text messages. Among customers who received information using other communications, such as bill inserts, door hangers and direct mail, more than 60 percent said the information did not change their opinion of the utility.

The methods of smart meter communications that had the most positive impact on customer opinion were mobile and web-based, indicating customers wanted quick and easy accessibility to information as well as the potential for interaction with the utility.

The Smart Pulse Study was based on 9,368 online interviews among residential customers of 17 electric utilities across the United States and Canada in which at least 85 percent of customers had a smart meter installed. The Customer Engagement Strategies Study was based on 16,712 online interviews among residential customers of 70 U.S. electric utilities that represent all of the industry’s leading electric utility brands.

For smart meters to have a significant effect on managing energy consumption, it appears that utilities need to improve customer communications.