British Columbia Hydro is the latest utility to feel the wrath of smartmeterphobia. The answer is to meet customers where they live and speak their language.
Earlier this spring, the energy minister of British Columbia tried to make smart meters mandatory, but many residents balked, refusing to allow contractors into their homes.
After the May elections, the new energy minister announced an opt-out plan, whereby customers could pay extra to have their meter read manually. And 60,000 British Columbians took that option.
We’ve talked in previous posts about the insidious power of smart meter vitriol.
It plays on paranoia about government spying – insert NSA joke of choice here – and health fears associated with radio waves. It feeds into a more fundamental angry distrust of authority and technology. And once it gets started – like any conspiracy theory – it grows and grows.
The state of Maine has a different problem. They installed meters all over the state as part of a forward-thinking program, but the Public Utilities Commission is complaining that customers didn’t use the information the meters gave them, they aren’t seeing the energy savings they were promised, and millions of dollars were wasted.
Both cases illustrate the importance of communicating with customers beforehand – especially the ones who are hard to reach. British Columbians, with their long history of logging and mining, pride themselves on their rugged individualism.
It would take a skillfully wrought strategy to frame messages in a way that the western Canadians will accept. We’ve seen many times in our work at Shelton Group that the right campaign can help resistant customers want to accept difficult messages.
The experience in Maine is one we are seeing clearly in our Utility Pulse research: If homeowners don’t change the way they use energy in their homes, then all their energy efficiency investments are for naught.
And without training, homeowners don’t know what behaviors to change or how to change them. Among our most enlightening Utility Pulse findings is the fact that consumers truly want their utilities to show them how to cut their bills.
On one hand, it’s confusing to see Luddite rebellions against smart meters. On the other hand, it’s very clear: utilities need to meet their customers where they live, speak their language and tell them what they need to know.
For the information to sink in, this needs to happen over and over – before the big program begins.