AMI at Glendale Water & Power focuses on customer education and outreach.
In 2009, Glendale Water & Power (GWP) started one of its largest utility projects — deploying an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). The deployment included upgrading both metering and communications networks for a customer base containing 84,500 electric meters and 32,500 water meters. The city of Glendale, located northeast of Los Angeles, California, U.S., was selected to receive a US$20 million grant from Department of Energy (DOE) toward this approximately $70 million project.
The entire project has four phases. The first phase is AMI and a meter data management system (MDMS). This includes the installation of a citywide Wi-Fi mesh connected at 13 points to GWP-owned fiber. Water and electric collectors connect to the Wi-Fi mesh and communicate with their respective meters. GWP installed water and electric head-end systems and a new MDMS that interfaces with its customer information system (CIS) and billing system. Also in the first phase, GWP will replace or upgrade all of its water and electric meters to AMI meters, which will communicate through two-way radio and ZigBee communication for in-home devices.
The second phase includes customer programs, in-home displays, pricing programs, thermal storage and demand response.
Finally, distribution automation, divided into phases three and four, will consist of system upgrades to the software supporting distribution automation and hardware upgrades within substations and along distribution feeders.
GWP contracted with Kema Inc. for program management and subject-matter expertise on a broad range of smart grid topics. Itron was selected to provide the MDMS, head-end systems, water and electric collectors, electric meters, water registers and end points. Itron also is supplying substantial professional services in support of the implementation. Utility Partners of America (UPA) was selected as GWP's installation contractor for backhaul and installation of the electric and water meters.
Agilisys has provided information technology support, and North American Power Partners has provided demand-response support. OPower is supplying customer communication about consumption and efficiency. The citywide Wi-Fi system consists of Tropos Wi-Fi radios, purchased from Itron with significant technical support directly from Tropos.
UISOL has been selected to document the current state of GWP's systems and assist in the development of a long-term road map for migrating existing systems to an enterprise service bus and in the installation and integration of a full suite of distribution automation software. The utility also retained the services of Michael Karp & Associates to help put together a customer advisory group, conduct focus groups and coordinate town hall meetings.
Education and Outreach
Launching a turnkey implementation and installation program around smart meters and the smart grid requires heavy emphasis on education and outreach. The smartest part of the smart grid has to be the customer if the project is to yield all of the benefits possible. Customers need to comprehend the new technology, how it affects them, benefits, future rate plans and in-home displays. The program's success hinges on the creation of an effective dialogue with customers to understand and meet their needs and address their concerns while helping them to enjoy the full benefit afforded by the new system.
Customer surveys conducted by GWP at the beginning of the program showed that most customers had positive views about the smart grid, yet few claimed to understand it. Subsequent surveys have shown an increase in understanding while retaining positive sentiment. Conversations with the utility's community advisory panel members have convinced the utility that most customers view the meter exchange as a non-event.
One panel member told GWP, “So you come to my house and change my meters, so what? If not for the door hanger you leave and the fact I have to reset my digital devices, I would not even know you had been there. When I get data about my usage and there are new rates that I can take advantage of, then we will have something to talk about.”
Any negative press about a smart grid project can have a negative effect on all smart grid projects. In town hall meetings, customers have repeated the negative headlines they have read. GWP carefully monitors smart grid news for several reasons. First, to know what problems other utilities are having so it can prevent similar problems. And second, to be able to intelligently discuss the news with customers.
After obtaining the DOE grant, GWP made the $70 million cost of the project public in all outreach and reassured customers their rates were not going to increase as a result of the smart meter implementation. The utility held several community meetings to introduce customers to installation plans and proof of concept, funding sources and future rollout plans.
During the proof-of-concept phase, GWP tested communication plans. It developed an introductory letter, a frequently asked questions (FAQs) brochure, reminder postcards and door hangers. The local media and televised city council meetings, the utility's newsletter, local newspaper and various blogs have been covering the coming of the smart meters to Glendale. Press releases were issued on a monthly basis about the DOE grant, the proof-of-concept phase and installations plans. The utility also held five community meetings in ZIP codes throughout the city to let customers know about the upcoming installations and show them the new meters.
Also during the proof-of-concept phase, GWP held meetings with a wide array of stakeholders — rotary groups, large-business customers, small-business customers, realtors' associations, homeowners' associations, nonprofit organizations, chambers of commerce and different city department executives — to inform them of the move to the smart grid and how it would benefit the utility and the community. Then an advisory group, comprised of Glendale residents who represent a wide array of stakeholders, was formed and started meeting on a monthly basis to discuss rollout plans, implementation, customer education and outreach.
The press quickly lost interest in the subject of smart meters, so the utility relied on its internal communications team to continue outreach and education. Customers received letters three weeks before installation notifying them that their meters soon would be upgraded. The one-page letter explained GWP's plans to move to a smart grid, how the installations would work and what customers could expect. The letter also included a FAQs brochure.
Two weeks prior to installation, customers received two postcards — one for water and one for electric — reminding them of the installations. Then during the installation process, UPA's installation contractor knocks on the door, distributes the FAQs brochure as necessary, completes the installation and leaves the customer a door hanger stating that the installation was either successful or not based on a variety of reasons. The customer is directed to call a toll-free customer service number to schedule an appointment if desired or if the customer has any questions.
Each month, the utility presents updates at the televised water and power commission and city council meetings. Various newspaper, trash truck and bus shelter advertisements, city building posters and desktop easels with frequently asked question brochures were developed and distributed, directing customers to the utility's smart grid-devoted website and educating them on the benefits of smart meters.
The utility used its bimonthly newsletter, “From the Source,” mailed to more than 75,000 customers on a regular basis, to inform customers about its move to the smart grid. The newsletter now contains updates from the proof of concept and future benefits of the smart grid. Going forward, each issue will continue to have a section devoted to smart grid as new meters are being installed. The utility also developed educational posters and trade show signs to display at community events, in bus shelters and in city offices. GWP has made it a priority to have a presence at every community event — from the large citywide events to smaller events such as movies or concerts in the park, block parties and cultural events — to present information on the smart grid.
In the interest of successfully communicating with all of its customers, GWP has provided printed and electronic information in the four languages most commonly spoken in Glendale, on its website and at events. UPA's customer service center is available to customers 24 hours a day to answer questions and address concerns. UPA's call center supports 31 languages, which ensures that all GWP customers will have their questions and concerns adequately addressed.
As water meters age, they tend to record less and less of the water flowing through them. As a consequence, older meters may be seriously under-recording water consumption. Replacing an old meter with a new one can produce a higher bill. Naturally, customers tend to believe the old meter and distrust the new one. During the initial pilot project, GWP tested every water meter removed. It found a few were broken, not recording any usage, and several meters were reading low.
All newly installed meters will be manually read at first to provide parallel testing of the automatic reading capability of the system. Manual reading is highly accurate but human errors can be made. When these errors occur, they tend to be blamed on the new technology.
GWP has many safeguards in place to protect privacy and the security of its systems. When concerns about these issues occasionally arise, the utility will be able to explain its approach to the satisfaction of most customers. GWP knows that customer outreach and education will never end.
Other challenges are slowly coming up as the utility moves to the smart grid:
Perceived violation of privacy as a result of the increased data availability
Cultural, language and trust barriers
Stir up of unhealthy radio waves
Inability to not educate customers properly and motivate them to take advantage of incentive pricing plans as they become available.
These challenges are unique to each utility, and how they are addressed will determine the success of an outreach program, and can cast a dark shadow on all the positive outreach and feedback the utility has received thus far. Reassurance at some point will not work; customers will need to see proof. Hand-holding of customers through these issues will be required.
On the issue of taking advantage of pricing plans, GWP will work with all customer groups, make numerous presentations, reach out to community-based organizations, and launch small education campaigns and training in a variety of different languages to educate customers on the pricing plans. Utility managers will make local cable television appearances and use the city's local access cable channel production team to develop a series of public service announcements and training videos on pricing plans, in-home displays and how to choose the one best suited for the individual customer. The same can be accomplished with the issue of privacy and how GWP plans to use and secure the data. The utility also plans on publishing white papers and success stories, and addressing negative blogs and stories that discredit the safety of the smart meters and the privacy issues.
GWP's move to the smart grid could take up to 10 years. It is not just about installing the smart meters and being done with it. Both customers and utility need to see beyond just meters, looking toward the many benefits. Proper education and open communication are key to getting everyone on board. Transparency, openness and honest dialogue are essential when addressing the various concerns and questions from the media or the public.
The utility has learned it only takes just one customer to stir the pot and move everything in the wrong direction. GWP's communications are consistent across the board. Advertising and outreach at times might be redundant, but saturating the market with a few simple ideas is better than not addressing or educating the public at all. Well-informed customers are less likely to object and a well-informed utility also has to be able to respond quickly to implement changes as necessary and respond to the feedback of the community.
Atineh N. Haroutunian (AHaroutunian@ci.glendale.ca.us) is the public benefits coordinator for Glendale Water & Power. He is responsible for day-to-day program management and operations of energy-efficiency programs. She also handles communications, public relations and outreach for the utility. Haroutunian holds a master's degree in communication management and a bachelor's degree, both from the University of Southern California. She previously worked for Hill & Knowlton Public Relations.
Craig R. Kuennen (CKuennen@ci.glendale.ca.us) is the smart grid project sponsor, marketing manager for Glendale Water & Power. He leads the utility-wide $70 million smart grid project, and also is responsible for the development and implementation of energy-efficiency programs and overseeing all the marketing, collateral development and communications outreach for GWP. Kuennen has a bachelor's degree and a MBA degree from National University as well as a master's degree from San Diego State University.
Glendale Water & Power www.glendalewaterandpower.com
Michael Karp & Associates www.awish.net
North American Power Partners www.nappartners.com
Utility Partners of America www.utilitypartners.com