SMUD completes smart meter project
Very high customer satisfaction highlights effort
Customers of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) come to expect the best from the electric utility they own and when it comes to smart meters, SMUD continues to deliver. SMUD has completed installation of smart meters for its more than 600,000 residential and business customers. The project, which started in late 2009, has been completed on time and on budget. It is a major success. SMUD is one of only a handful of utilities in the United States to complete such a large deployment effort.
Customer satisfaction drove the project. Throughout, SMUD maintained customer satisfaction levels in the mid-90th percentile. Ongoing surveys measure customer satisfaction with the meters, the installation process and the associated communications. The complaint rate was only 0.09 percent.
SMUD smart meters provide customers with more flexibility and choice and immediate benefits. For example, customers can now see their electricity usage online, and start and stop service remotely. Meters are now read automatically precluding meter readers from being on customers' property. Fewer truck rolls will be needed to maintain the system.
From the very beginning, SMUD's made its smart meter program customer-centric, always putting the customer's satisfaction first and foremost. SMUD ensured customers knew when the meter would be installed and communicated in easy-to-understand literature in six languages explaining the process and benefits. Customers were provided 14-day notices for installations with the option to schedule installation appointments within a one-hour window. SMUD offers domestically based live agents to handle any questions.
Another key factor for SMUD's success is careful planning. The Landis & Gyr smart meters interact with a mesh network developed by Silver Spring Networks. SMUD installed the network that reads the meters before installing the meters and tested the network extensively. SMUD began deployment by conducting a year-long test with approximately 80,000 smart meters in the downtown Sacramento area, suburban Folsom and the rural southeastern part of Sacramento County. The test measured the capability of the network as well as billing accuracy. This approach helped SMUD minimize estimated reads, an aspect that has complicated other utilities' rollouts. The test was very successful. In 2011, SMUD began full deployment and installed as many as 65,000 meters per month, completing installation in the first quarter of 2012.
The meters provide the foundation for the future smart grid, a comprehensive upgrade that will provide digital two-way communication to customers about rates, products and services and even help identify outages more quickly. Quicker restorations and even some "self-healing" features will improve reliability and save energy. "Smart meters and the smart grid will revolutionize the way we use energy in our lives in a very productive way," said SMUD General Manager and CEO John DiStasio. "SMUD customers will be able to better gauge how they use electricity to better manage their usage, bill and comfort according to their needs," DiStasio said.
Additional aspects of the smart grid are in various phases of deployment:
- Enhanced the distribution system by implementing Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition at more than 19 substations;
- Completed testing of Conservation Voltage Regulation on multiple circuits in the service area;
- Launched a Smart Pricing Options pilot program offering customers a choice of a time-of-use or critical peak pricing rates, and choices for in-home displays and smart thermostats;
- Launching a fully integrated Customer Relationship Management system that incorporates information from the meters and other applications to provide enhanced service;
- SMUD smart grid partners (local schools, colleges and universities) are completing construction on advanced energy management systems funded in part by SMUD and the Department of Energy; and,
- Next year, customers will have access to more information and tools available through the Web, smart phones and SMUD customer service representatives to help them better manage energy usage and mitigate environmental impact.
SMUD envisions a day when customers can better tailor their energy usage by pre-setting or remotely programming their preferences for thermostats, appliance use and electric vehicle charging. These tools can reduce their bills and deliver overall community benefits in the form of a more reliable grid and more stable rates, especially during hot summer days when SMUD pays higher prices for purchased power.
The smart grid ties together all aspects of electricity delivery and consumption. The resulting potential energy savings could help SMUD save roughly $8 million to $15 million annually in power supply costs. Those savings could help SMUD avoid a major transmission investment or a local large scale electric generation project. The cheapest power plant is the one that isn't built, and at today's prices, SMUD's smart meter and smart grid projects could avoid about $300 million to $400 million of upfront capital costs with regard to future generation needs.
As the nation's sixth largest community-owned electric service provider, SMUD has been providing low-cost, reliable electricity for more than 65 years to Sacramento County (and a small portion of Placer County). SMUD is a recognized industry leader and award winner for its innovative energy efficiency programs, renewable power technologies, and for its sustainable solutions for a healthier environment. SMUD is the first large California utility to receive more than 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources.