You’ve probably heard the story by now of the Bakersfield man, Peter Flores, suing PG&E because his energy bill tripled after the company installed a smart meter at his house. Then additional plaintiffs joined the suit and learned more about smart metering. Soon after, their attorney claimed that beyond just PG&E, the meter makers and communications technology companies could be included in the suit.
Today, according to Dan Richman of SmartGridToday, the plaintiff’s lawyer has an analysis of weather data that shows temperature differentials between 2008 (with a $200 energy bill for Flores) and 2009 ($600) are negligible. The attorney claims that with negligible temperature differences and no substantial rate changes, something else must be at play.
In Richman’s report, PG&E claimed that July of 2008 had 6 days at or above a hundred degrees in Bakersfield, CA and that July of 2009 had 17 such days. Even if the average temperatures remained the same, as the plaintiff says, July of 2009 would have placed a higher load on heating & cooling systems. In order to have a similar average temperature, 2009 must have had many cooler days on which the A/C didn’t work very hard. As a given morning grew unusually hot the A/C would have had to work much harder to adjust. These load spikes are more energy demanding than steady-state cooling with an even external temperature.
In short, both PG&E and the plaintiff’s attorney could be correct. On a monthly basis, the temperatures could have been the same. On a day by day basis, the house could have drawn substantially more energy responding to higher loads as when a hot day follows a cooler night.
Response to the case has been varied. The California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 in favor of having PG&E meters independently tested for accuracy in the San Joaquin valley, where Bakersfield is located. In conversation with Richman, PG&E maintained that “meter accuracy is not at all an issue here.”
The case could have some impact if found in the plaintiff’s favor. PG&E’s meters are made by Landis & Gyr and General Electric. They use communications technology from Silver Spring. All of the above are considered top of the field in metering. If their hardware is found in court to be inaccurate and responsible for inflated bills, the finding could seriously hurt public perception of advanced metering and the smart grid at large. If opinions got low enough, government funding would begin to dry up – at which point smart grid development would stagnate.