Thursday, October 4, 2012

It's not about logic or facts, folks!

Once again, the "Smart meters are killing us!" crowd is at it again.  This time in Massachusetts, where a group calling itself "Halt MA Smart Meters" (HMASM? Not exactly a catchy acronym, folks) is claiming "meters use pulsed, wireless (cellular), high frequency communication, a recently recognized carcinogen."

A few weeks ago, I witnessed someone in a coffee shop talking on their cellphone, and using the shop's free Wi-Fi to update their anti-smart-meter website.  While he was at it, he was using his phone's GPS to update his Facebook status with his location.

Does anyone else see the disconnect here?

I think this points up (yet again) that the objections to Smart Meters isn't really about the RF, or cancer risk, or privacy, or anything else even remotely similar.

It's about perception and choice.

It's about choice because people don't believe that they have a choice in the matter.  It's about perception because when people feel something is being forced upon them, it is perceived as evil.

"It can't be good, because if it were good, they'd be giving me a choice about it."

Believe it or not, it isn't illogical, it is, however based on certain assumptions about the world that many people don't realize they have made.

We could try to educate, but that will be seen as propaganda.

We could try to make comparisons to other devices that people use every day that are more dangerous than Smart meters, but that doesn't address the underlying assumptions behind the "force = evil / choice = good" dichotomy.

So, how do we get out of this?  Simple: Don't push.  Pull.

Pull?  Yup, pull.  How did Facebook become so wildly popular, even among those who worry about Smart Meters violating their privacy?  How does Apple sell giga-units of devices barely changed from the previous version within hours of product launch?

By providing something that people want, and are willing to give up assumptions in order to get.

How do you create a pull for AMI?
  • Start with a pledge, before you ever even talk to your PUC about AMI, along the lines of Google's famous (and now somewhat strained) "Don't be evil."  
    • Keep it simple and straightforward, to wit: "We do not and will not gather, hold, or process data that isn't used to either bill you for the services you buy, keep those services reliable, or restore those services when they are out." Those are pretty much the rules you have to abide by now, anyway.  
    • Stick to it and prove you mean it.  Tell people who ask, in as much detail as they can tolerate, exactly what information you have, and how and why it is used.
  • Talk to your customers and the PUC about services and tariffs in that provide a real advantage to the customer.  Give the customer something they want.  
    • Access to data?  Let them have it, it's their data anyway.  (Don't believe me? Check the NAESB REQ Business Practices.)  Mention that you could do even better with AMI in place.
    • Better pricing for certain patterns of service? Do it.  Mention that you could offer even more innovative pricing with AMI.
    • Home automation? Work to get it into the stores where people can buy it.  (Don't provide it yourself, that will raise the "Why are they doing this? suspicions.)
    • In short, find out what people want, then as Jean Luc Picard might say "Make it so."
  • THEN (and ONLY then) roll out a Smart Meter installation project.  But be coy about it.  Make it a limited availability opt-in.  Only so many people per quarter, based on what you can afford to do without hiring outside contractors.
By designing your AMI implementation with "social pull" you'll likely have fewer detractors, and a happier customer base.  As I've said before, Utilities are going to need to think in terms of customers, rather than ratepayers.

Next week, I'll have some more news on a quiet revolution that's beginning, that will make creating a "pull" for AMI even easier.

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