SACRAMENTO – 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.
Throughout the project, SMUD has maintained customer satisfaction levels in the mid-90th percentile. Ongoing surveys measure customer satisfaction with the meters, the installation process and associated communications. The complaint rate is only 0.09 percent.
SMUD smart meters provide SMUD 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 trucks will be needed to maintain the system.
Smart meters also 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.
Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui (D-Sacramento) joined SMUD in celebrating the highly successful deployment. Matsui was instrumental in SMUD winning a $127.5 million Smart Grid Investment Grant from the Department of Energy. The grant helped SMUD fund the meter installations and begin building the smart grid. “The Smart Grid Investment Grant program is accelerating the modernization of the nation’s electric transmission and distribution systems. The funding SMUD received will ensure Sacramento residents have a smarter, more efficient and reliable electric system that will empower consumers to make energy-saving choices and will foster new growth of renewable energy sources,” Matsui said.
From the very beginning, SMUD 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 the 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. 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 doing 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 50,000 meters per month, completing it in the first quarter of 2012.
As a result, the SMUD smart meter project was awarded the 2012 Smart Utility Award—Excellence Awards North America—by Metering International magazine, a pre-eminent industry trade publication. “SMUD’s project stands out for its forward-thinking approach,” the magazine wrote, calling SMUD a “truly smart grid trailblazer” with a “holistic vision (that) encompasses the community as the primary benefitting entity.”
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.
For more information about the SMUD smart meter and smart grid projects, visit smud.org.