How are smart meter opt-outs affecting progress on modernizing the electric grid? During today's OnPoint, Lisa Wood, executive director at the Institute for Electric Efficiency, discusses new numbers on current and anticipated smart meter installations. She talks about the impact opt-out programs are having on efforts to promote smart meters and explains why she believes consumers should have to pay to opt out of the technology.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Lisa Wood, executive director at the Institute for Electric Efficiency. Lisa, thanks for coming on the show.
Lisa Wood: Thank you, it's great to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: Lisa, you've just released a new report on progress being made in the smart meter field. How many installations currently exist and how many are you anticipating over the next five years?
Lisa Wood: Well, right now there are about 35 million smart meters deployed across the country and that's about one in three households. Over the next few years we expect that to move up to about 65 million, which will be about 50 percent of all U.S. households.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you anticipate a time where we could see 100 percent across the board smart meters?
Lisa Wood: I think close to 100 percent by probably 2020, I'd say.
Monica Trauzzi: There's been a lot of consumer backlash though to these smart meters. In fact, there are states that are allowing consumers to opt out by paying fees. How does that sort of pushback on the technology affect the future and some of the numbers that you were just talking about?
Lisa Wood: I think there are a couple of states that are putting off out options in place for consumers, but the number of consumers that are actually opting out is quite small. I think it will delay somewhat the deployment of smart meters, but I think it will not have a very big impact in the end. I think it's just getting used to a new technology and it takes, sometimes there's sort of stop and go before it goes, gets fully deployed.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you think that consumers should have to pay to opt out? Right now they're being charged.
Lisa Wood: Absolutely and I'll tell you why I think that. If I opt out of a smart meter, then the cost of me opting out of that smart meter, there is a cost to the system. And every other consumer should not have to pay that cost. So right now, in most states where there's opt out, there's a fee to the person that's opting out. If that fee goes away, then the cost is socialized so that every residential customer pays the cost of opting out.
Monica Trauzzi: PG&E has had tens of thousands of requests to have smart meters removed. Customers there have claimed health effects from the radio-frequency emissions from these meters. How should utilities be responding to stuff like that?
Lisa Wood: Well, I think it's always difficult to respond to that sort of thing. There have been studies about the health effects. There haven't been shown to be any health effects, but communicating that information is very difficult I think.
Monica Trauzzi: So, how do you get past that hurdle then? What kind of PR essentially needs to be happening to have consumers understand what these meters are actually doing?
Lisa Wood: Well, I think it's an education process, that we do need to spend more time educating consumers what these smart meters are all about.
Monica Trauzzi: Why do utilities consider smart meters such a critical or crucial part of this overall push to sort of modernize the grid?
Lisa Wood: Smart meters are, in a sense, they're the building block to the smart grid and I think of smart meters in two ways. On the one side they are a part of the distribution system, really optimizing the distribution system or allowing utilities to optimize the distribution system. On the other side, they provide the way to communicate, to provide two-way communications between the utility and the home. So, it is the building block to the smart grid.
Monica Trauzzi: Do they provide too much information though? I mean do utilities need to sort of streamline the data that they're receiving and find a way to only get the data that's critical?
Lisa Wood: Yeah, I think that's a great question. Yeah, they provide quite a lot of data, but who wants all that data I guess is one of the issues. And putting that data into a format that's useful for consumers and that's useful for the utilities is a challenge really and figuring out what's important and what's not important.
Monica Trauzzi: So, in the broader conversation about modernizing the grid, is there enough of a cohesive effort happening right now or is it still a little disjointed?
Lisa Wood: Cohesive in what sense?
Monica Trauzzi: Cohesive effort on what approach the United States should be taking on modernizing the grid and what the smart grid should look like.
Lisa Wood: Well, I think you probably know this, I mean the, a lot of the electric power sector is managed at the state level, so what we're seeing today is states are regulating what utilities are doing in large part. So some of it's controlled or quite a bit of it is controlled by state utility commissions. And then there's some parts of the power system that are handled at the federal level, but, as you know, we don't have anything right now with a, we don't have a national push really to say we're going to modernize the grid. It's really more, I'd say it's a more grassroots push to modernize the grid.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you.
Lisa Wood: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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