Smart meters and technology are changing the electric utility industry and allowing consumers to gain greater control of their energy use, utility and technology representatives said at the Governor's Energy Conference on Thursday.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. customers are part of one of the largest utility-level deployments of smart meters in the country. OG&E hopes energy-efficiency efforts and smart grid technology will let it postpone the need for a new generating plant until at least 2020.
“There's a new player in town, and it's called the smart grid,” said Jesse Langston, vice president of retail energy for OGE Energy Corp., OG&E's parent company.
“I personally believe it's the most significant game changer in the future. I say that because it's technology and customers. It's where those two meet together. When you give them that power, you turn that commodity, electricity, into comfort, convenience and safety, something a lot more meaningful than just electricity.”
Langston said the old way of using and paying for electricity was similar to buying gasoline and not knowing the price at the pump. Smart meters give consumers price transparency, he said.
“It enables you to see what you're consuming and it enables you to understand what it costs you for electricity,” he said.
Nationwide, about one-third of households now have smart meters, Langston said.
Recent surveys by J.D. Power and Associates found customers think having smart meters benefits the environment, helps manage their costs and gets meter readers out of their backyards. Customers also save money, Langston said. But more than anything else, customers told surveyors that their bills are accurate.
“Our complaints from customers have gone down, mostly driven by accuracy in bills,” Langston said. “When our customers call up and talk to one of our consultants, they have data to look at and help them understand what's going on with their bill. Unlike before, we're having better, broader, deeper conversations with our customers about their usage and what they can do.”
Langston said technology will transform the electric utility business in a similar way that it did for the telecommunications industry.
“Technology makes everything faster, smaller, cheaper,” he said. “Smart grid is a gateway for innovation, it's a platform for products and services, and it's a way for us to address our customer needs.”