Communications Breakdown: Xcel Energy’s Smart Grid Program

Will Poor Communications Destroy Xcel Energy’s Smart Grid Program?

Some utilities are having trouble implementing Smart Grid or Smart Meter projects that rely on customers changing the way they use energy. Reaching customers and getting them to consider changing their behavior requires a long-term, integrated, campaign that includes customer communications, media relations, and public relations, among other tools.

There are plenty of ways to do this right–and many ways to miss the boat. As a utility, your legacy precedes you: in many ways, it predetermines whether you will succeed or fail.

Pacific Gas & Electric is one utility that ran into trouble with its Smart Grid communications. Whether those problems have been fully resolved, as PG&E officials claim, only will become clear in time.

But another, higher profile clash has erupted over Xcel Energy’s Smart Grid program in Boulder, Colorado. Matters have deteriorated to the point where the City of Boulder is trying to municipalize Xcel Energy’s electric system in the city, in part because of the way the utility implemented its Smart Grid plan there. Losing Boulder as a customer would mean losing an annual revenue stream of about $100 million.

In talking with people who are participating in Xcel Energy’s “SmartGrid City” project in Boulder, I was struck by how often they said poor communications was the root of their frustration and anger.

When customers and other stakeholders don’t feel they have been communicated with honestly and completely, there can be startling, even fatal, consequences. Here I discuss some instances where utilities suffered after they lost sight of their customers and other stakeholders.

If you want to avoid repeating the communications difficulties associated with Xcel’s Smart Grid program, perhaps I can help. I have found the adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” particularly applicable to utility Smart Grid communications.

I offer prospective clients a complimentary, confidential, communications consultation, including an in-depth review of up to 10 pages of your Smart Grid/Smart Meter communications plan. I have found this is a great way for us to get to know each other better. Successful Smart Grid programs require a solid foundation of utility communications.

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