For the average residential customer, there’s a lot of confusing information out there about smart meters. Much of the discussion around the smart grid focuses on how advances in technology will benefit utilities.

While it’s true that a self-healing grid will bring shorter, less frequent outages and that smart meters can help make the electrical grid more efficient, most customers view reliability of electrical service as a given, not a benefit. In order to increase customer acceptance and adoption of advanced metering technology, the personal benefits need to be framed in ways that resonate with residential customers.

A recent study of Texas homeowners with smart meters found that respondents were most interested in hearing about ways that their individual households could benefit from smart meters and related technologies. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said that the most compelling benefit of smart meters was the potential for money-saving pricing plans and the ability to manage their households more efficiently.

Customers Can Manage Electric Usage and Cost Throughout the Month

During the summer of 2011, Texas’ largest electric delivery utilities launched the Biggest Energy Saver Campaign to encourage customers with smart meters to reduce their home energy consumption by learning how to access and understand their individual smart meter usage data. By offering compelling prizes, including electric vehicles, smart appliances and home energy monitoring systems, the competition inspired customers to overcome reservations about complex technology or a lack of understanding of the energy industry.

The results were dramatic. During the hottest summer in state history, the top 10 percent of Biggest Energy Saver participants reduced their electric usage by nearly a third, saving enough energy to power approximately six average homes. By reviewing their personal energy usage in graphs that showed peaks and valleys throughout the day, many participants were surprised to see just how much electricity was being used by TVs, computer monitors, entertainment systems and cell phone chargers that were plugged in and using electricity even when no one was home or the family was asleep.

Conventional electro-mechanical meters require a meter reader to come out to a home once a month to read the meter. That reading is compared to the previous month’s reading and a bill is generated based on the difference. The average homeowner typically doesn’t know how much electricity they’ve used or how much they owe until they receive that bill.

For homes with smart meters, the meter reports electrical usage in set increments throughout the day, allowing the homeowner to monitor total usage – and the associated cost – throughout the month. Darla Seible of Dallas, first prize winner of the Biggest Energy Saver contest said, “Your bill is never a surprise anymore.”

In areas where electric providers offer time-of-use rates, customers with smart meters can use the information provided by their smart meters to determine if peaks in their electric usage could be shifted to a different day or time of day in order to reduce their monthly bills. These behavioral changes could be as simple as running the dishwasher during the night when everyone is sleeping or adjusting the thermostat during the day so the house is not being kept warm or cool when no one is home.

Smart Meters Bring New Efficient Appliances and Home Management Tools

Trusted names in consumer electronics are making the smart home a reality through new appliances, monitoring products and remote management tools that are now available to customers with smart meters. GE appliances with Brillion Technology connect to the Nucleus home energy monitor, creating a simple dashboard view of home energy consumption that can uncover usage trends and patterns, making it easy for customers to determine what proactive and reactive steps they can take to maintain a comfortable home that is economically and environmentally efficient. For home energy monitors that can be connected to a wireless network, customers can use smartphone apps for remote monitoring and access. In homes where the family adjusts the thermostats before they leave for the day, these apps can be used to remotely reset the thermostat, returning the home to a comfortable temperature by the time the family returns.

But, it isn’t necessary for customers to make large appliance purchases to access and understand their smart meter data. Smartphone, tablet and web apps such as Smart Meter 500, Better Energy App and Watt Happens, illustrate smart meter data in easy-to-understand graphs and add social gaming elements to allow friends and neighbors to compete against each other to lower their energy consumption and bills.

Through the use of smart appliances, home energy management systems, apps and other easy-to-understand tools, customers can unlock the potential of their smart meters to make their homes run more efficiently, while saving money and maintaining comfort.

Brenda Jackson is Chief Customer Officer at Oncor, a regulated electric utility operating the largest distribution and transmission system in Texas, delivering power to more than 3 million homes and businesses.