Smart Meter Investments Benefit Rural Customers in Three Southern States

Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the electricity industry have jointly invested over $7.9 billion in 99 cost-shared Smart Grid Investment Grant projects to modernize the electric grid, strengthen cybersecurity, improve interoperability, and collect an unprecedented level of data on improvements in grid operations and customer services. Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation’s (Tri-State) Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) project has produced benefits for small, member-owned cooperatives and their customers in rural Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee in several ways. Customer satisfaction and services have improved; meter operations costs are down; write-offs from unpaid bills dropped in part because of a popular advanced bill payment (pre-pay) program; and lessons about how to accomplish smart meter deployments successfully were learned during project implementation.

Benefits from improvements in customer satisfaction and services include a popular “My Usage” web portal is helping customers to manage their consumption and costs, a pre-pay billing program is helping customers manage monthly bills and household budgets, and improved outage detection has reduced restoration times. Benefits from cost savings from operational improvements include reductions in meter operating costs from a high of about $450,000 in 2011 to a little more than $150,000 in 2013 after smart meters were installed. This is a cost reduction of about 65%. Lessons learned from project implementation include the need to comprehensively review and redesign billing systems and practices prior to implementation of its pre-pay program including bill due date, delinquency notification, and penalty charge policies and business practices. The redesign was one of the keys to successful implementation.

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