Responding to Customers Who Refuse to Get a Smart Meter

Posted to Questline Digital in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Questline
Maureen Mierke's picture
Marketing Manager, Questline Inc.

Marketing Manager at Questline - a digital agency that provides content marketing and program promotion solutions to energy utilities who want to build long-term relationships with their customers.

  • Member since 2021
  • 8 items added with 8,365 views
  • Mar 7, 2023

Across the United States, energy utilities are transitioning customers from analog meters to electronic “smart” meters, which capture customers' energy usage data and deliver the information back to the utility. With this data, energy utilities can better plan for electrical demand and protect the grid, knowing when their customers typically use energy and how much.

However, even though smart meters benefit utilities and the grid, many customers are still wary of the new system. They are refusing smart meter installation, with reasons like:

  • “Smart meters are an intrusion of privacy.”
  • “They’re damaging to my health.” 
  • “I’ll be at an increased vulnerability to hackers.”

As these beliefs continue to gain momentum, more and more customers are taking to social media or blogs to share why they refused a smart meter. These stories are influencing those who otherwise would have adopted smart meters.

How Utilities are Responding

Each state has its own smart meter opt-out policies that utilities and customers must oblige with. At least seven states have enacted policies that allow customers to opt-out of smart meter installation, while in 22 other states utility regulators rule on opt-out programs on a case-by-case basis.

For example, for First Energy, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has approved the utility charging a monthly fee to customers who choose not to install a smart meter. This fee is said to cover the monthly manually reading of the meter. Additionally, if a customer has a smart meter installed and later chooses to opt-out, the utility charges customers a one-time upfront fee to replace the smart meter with an analog meter.

Another utility, PG&E, lets customers choose which kind of meter they prefer, but, again, will charge a monthly fee for an analog meter. This fee is set by the California Public Utilities Commission and ends after 36 months. PG&E provides a comparison chart to help customers understand the difference between choosing a smart meter and an analog meter. Additionally, the utility allows customers who qualify for financial assistance to pay a lower set-up and monthly charge for analog meters.

It's important to note that among all states, only residential customers have the option to opt-out of smart meter installation. Business owners and property managers cannot opt-out and must provide access to the meters.

How Your Utility Can Encourage Adoption

Although each state has rules and regulations for refusing smart meters, it’s important to remember that your utility is the face of those decisions to customers. When customers are charged a fee, it’s your utility they turn to, not the state’s public utility commission.

When it comes to encouraging customers to participate in smart meters, it might take a little convincing. Customers can often be wary of new programs or technology, especially if they’ve been used to doing something a certain way. It’s imperative that your utility communicates with empathy and transparency.

In the case of refusing smart meters, perhaps customers have gotten used to having someone come out and read their meter. Or maybe they don’t use technology in their typical day-to-day and they don’t want to start now.

There could be a vast array of reasons why customers don’t want to install a smart meter. Your job as their utility is to know and understand those reasons and respond accordingly.

For example, debunk common myths about smart meters, like privacy or health concerns. Ensure the safety and security of their information and explain in-depth how smart meters will be read and what the information will be used for.

Some customers may find scheduling smart meter installation annoying or cumbersome, so they simply choose not to do it. Utilities can increase smart adoption by simplifying the setup process. Including a scheduling link in your email notifications lets customers schedule their appointment directly and hassle-free.

After a customer installs a smart meter, don’t let your communications end. Continue to educate them about the benefits of their new smart meter and how they can use the information at their fingertips to understand better how they use energy.

A New Wave Forward

As with all things, change can be difficult. Although the road to converting customers may be paved with challenges, education, understanding and flexibility are crucial to encouraging smart meter adoption.

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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Mar 10, 2023

It is nice companies can let those with strong feeling against smart meters to opt out. The fee they have to pay lets them decide and see the cost of not having a smart meter. 

   Personally i have solar and 2 smart meters so i can see all the data anytime. 

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Mar 17, 2023

Any numbers on how common opt-outs are? I remember hearing about smart-meter backlash back in the first half of the 2010's, but it seems like it's faded since? 

Maureen Mierke's picture
Thank Maureen for the Post!
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