PG&E Blinks on 'No-Opt Out' – SMeter Deployment Ramps Up Fast

PG&E considers SmartMeter compromise
David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is considering options for customers who fear that the utility’s new, wireless SmartMeters jeopardize their health, although company representatives won’t say what those might be.

“We want those customers to understand that we take their concerns seriously,” said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. “We’re still in a preliminary stage of review, including weighing the costs of any options. We will make this information public in the coming months as we develop it.”
EON photo by J. Heddle

Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E Corp., acknowledges a ‘year of challenge’
By Dana Hull and Steve Johnson
Mercury News
Dubbing 2010 “a year of setbacks” for PG&E, CEO Peter Darbee on Thursday conceded that his company has misjudged its customers on multiple occasions, but insisted that its response to the San Bruno pipeline explosion shows it is learning.
“The lessons of SmartMeters and Prop. 16 is that we need to further enhance our understanding of the customer,” Darbee said in an interview with the Mercury News. Over the past year, Pacific Gas & Electric has drawn sharp criticism for its dismissive response to concerns about its new electronic meters, and for its heavy-handed effort to block competition from municipal utilities with its failed June ballot measure….
The backlash against SmartMeters began with Central Valley customers who worried that the meters caused a spike in their electric bills. An independent investigation found the meters to be 99 percent accurate. Since then, a small but vocal number of consumers in Marin, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties and elsewhere have been speaking out about possible health effects. Some are convinced the meters are making them ill, while others fear they will increase the likelihood of brain cancer.
Darbee stressed that a SmartMeter emits a fraction of the radiation of a cell phone but said PG&E was looking for some way to address those concerns.
“The (radio frequency) emissions from one of our meters is less than one-ten-thousandth of what you get from a cell phone,” said Darbee, whose background is in telecommunications. “But there are people that have been concerned throughout their life about RF exposure, people who live their lives consumed with concerns about RF, and so in light of that, we’re asking ourselves, ‘Is there a way to find a compromise solution that they can live with and we can live with?’ ”

He declined to elaborate on what that might be….

Smart meter deployment on the increase in the US
Smart meters are continuing to gain traction in the US, with more than 90 utilities planning to install a total of 57.9 devices, according to the latest figures.

A study being carried out by Pike Research said smart electric meters – that use two-way communications networks to enable frequent readings of electricity consumption – are at the forefront of the utility world’s transition to a smarter electrical grid.

Jevan Fox, research analyst, says, ‘Smart meter installations have grown by leaps and bounds in 2010.’

Jevan said while he estimates that about 21 million smart meters will be installed in the US by the end of the year, utilities have already planned for many more as deployment programmes continue to gain momentum over the next few years.

According to Pike, Switzerland-based meter manufacturer Landis+Gyr is the market leader when it comes to utility vendor selections. The research shows this accounted for 26 per cent of total endpoints as of the end of the third-quarter.

It said during the past year, Landis+Gyr surpassed Itron as the largest smart meter supplier to utilities in the US, as Itron now holds a 24 per cent market share.

Other major players include Sensus with a 21 per cent share of the market, GE Energy with 20 per cent and Elster with five per cent of the market.

Despite Hurdles, Smart Meters Still Ramping Up Fast
By Jeff St. John at Earth2Tech
Mon Nov 22, 2010 2:11pm EST
Despite some setbacks, the U.S. smart meter push is continuing at a stimulus-fueled pace. Pike Research reported Monday that more than 90 U.S. utilities have 57.9 million smart meters planned and on the way.
That’s 7.9 million more than the combined 16 million meters installed and 34 million meters under contract that eMeter’s Chris King counted up in a blog post last month. It seems like the checks from the DOE’s stimulus program are finally reaching utilities.
The $3.4 billion in smart grid investment grants were expected to pay for about 18 million smart meters over the next three years, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the DOE grants were responsible for about 2 million installed meters as of September.
The Pike figure suggests the consumer backlash that has cropped up in certain areas over smart meters — California and Texas power customers have sued over alleged overcharging by their smart meters — isn’t making much of a dent in utility deployments. Regulators in Maryland, Hawaii, Michigan, Indiana and Colorado have asked utilities to shoulder more of the costs of deployment and put less burden on customers’ rates, but haven’t largely put utility installation plans on hold.
While the consumer smart meter backlash probably won’t be going away any time soon, the smart grid industry will be heartened to learn that meter ramp-up stats are on track and higher than expected.
As for the global smart meter picture, Pike predicts a $3.9 billion industry by 2015, with 250 million meters installed. Canada has tens of millions of meters being deployed, Europe has many tens of millions more due by the end of the decade under government mandates (pdf), and Asia — particularly China — is playing an increasingly important role.
Five big companies — Elster, Landis+Gyr, Itron, Sensus and General Electric — dominate the smart meter market in North America and Europe, though Echelon and others are making inr0ads into the business. But smart meter communications and networking are increasingly being handled by startups like Silver Spring Networks, Trilliant and SmartSynch, and back-end management, billing and customer support functions are being tackled by startups including eMeter and Ecologic Analytics.