Advanced meters are just one aspect of the smart grid, but for municipal utilities, they are often the cornerstone of smart grid deployments.

Earlier this year, GTM Research surveyed nearly 100 municipal utility executives at the inaugural Municipal Smart Grid Summit held in Bonita Springs, Florida about their current and future smart grid deployment plans.

The results are both predictable and surprising. Three-quarters of respondents see smart meters as a prerequisite to their utility’s vision of a smarter grid. “The focus is on customer and operational loads and understanding what the load looks like on the edge,” said David Leeds, Senior Manager of Smart Grid at GTM Research. (The full collection of survey data can be downloaded here.) Additionally, a whopping 76 percent see the smart meter as the customer's gateway to the home area network.

muni exec smart grid graph

But as for the data coming and going from that gateway -- well, that’s anyone’s guess. More than half of the execs said they are unsure whose property the granular consumer energy data is. A quarter of respondents said it belonged to the customers, and 23 percent said it belongs to the utility.

Although municipal utilities have far fewer customers than their investor-owned brethren, there are more than 2,000 of them serving millions of customers. The lack of clarity from munis could be in part because they are still in the early days of their smart meter rollouts -- 67 percent said they’re in the planning/investigatory stage; however, data ownership and privacy should be built into the deployment from day one.

Unlike investor-owned utilities, munis are not beholden to public utility commissions, although the findings regarding smart grid data rules from PUCs, such as the California PUC, could help to inform rules for municipal utilities.

The lack of clarity is certainly not unique to munis, or even the U.S. Privacy concerns in Europe forced the Netherlands to scale back their national smart meter plans, and the U.K. is establishing a central agency to oversee all of the data so that it does not sit with the utilities.

For all utilities, moving away from “unsure” to any other answer, whether it’s ownership by the customer or the utility, will allow for consumer confidence. Also, utilities could then move forward to put security and sharing plans in place. It will also allow third-party vendors to play in the space with confidence -- and to build the applications that can offer all of the benefits that munis are looking for from their smart meters.