The PG&E Marketing Hoax

If you catch one of the PG&E SmartMeter ™ ads on TV, you might get excited by what they promise. The ads are slickly produced, with customers describing how cool it is to ‘See Your Power,’ receive ‘Energy Alerts’ and manage how much energy you use. The trouble is, the ads are ‘forward-looking‘, and more than a little imaginative. PG&E is suggesting that they will provide consumers real-time data from the new meters. But, look closely at the your account online, and you’ll notice only day-behind information!

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that all California utilities (PG&E, SDG&E and SCE) are under mandate to pilot meter-to-home connections within six months. All three utilities have huge budgets for their SmartMeter ™ programs (totaling $5.6 Billion over the next decade). SCE is putting $54.6 million into its website alone, making available energy and price data, rate sign-up options and efficiency and forecasting capabilities to its customers. PG&E boasts that 8 million smart meters are already installed. Yet none of those smart meters will provide real-time (nor even ‘near real-time’) data to customers any time soon.

The issue is one of standardization. The current prevailing wireless standard for connecting millions of smart meters is known as Zigbee Smart Energy 1.0. Texas and other US Utilities are rolling out hundreds of thousands of ZigBee SE 1.0 meters right now. However, ZigBee SE 1.0 doesn’t work seamlessly with the Internet Protocol (“IP”), instead requiring extra hardware and upgrades to do so. PG&E seems to be waiting for ZigBee SE 2.0 before provisioning the meters and providing customers their data, but has also said that the standard is “not sufficiently mature to support large scale deployment.”

Zigbee just released the Technical Documentation for Version 2.0 for Public Comment. This means that PG&E (and other utilities, and smart meter manufacturers) won’t be able to even try out the standard until 2012. (I’m not sure how they will meet their mandated deadlines, let alone deliver on their marketing speak!?)

It seems that PG&E has put their marketing cart before the technical horse. In PG&E’s effort to spin a yarn to win-over consumers, we have been thrown into marketing gimmick neverland. Meantime even Microsoft and Google have shuttered their efforts to give people more control over their power. (Some of our friends have even suggested that this might be because of the lagging utilities)

At Genability, we try to keep it all positive! There are tons of tools and apps available to take control over your power today! We like them all. And we make it easy for you to check for any available tariff options at our consumer facing site whatsmypower. Stay tuned, because we’re actually doing what PG&E is just promising. And, we understand that effective energy analytics require real time data coupled with accurate, real-time pricing data (and various available options, targeted to each customer).

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