Dallas-based Oncor Electric Delivery is, according to its Web site, "...a regulated electric distribution and transmission business that...operates the largest distribution and transmission system in Texas, delivering power to approximately 3 million homes and businesses..."
Sometime around the 19th of July, Oncor apparently installed a software upgrade to its computer systems that provide electricity consumption data from the electric meters of commercial and residential users to Oncor's retail electric provider customers. However, reports a blog post last Friday at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, there was a "glitch" in the upgrade that prevented information from about 10 percent of the meters—or about 330 000 of them—being read properly over the course the next 10 days.
This in turn prevented the retail electric providers from billing their business and retail customers per usual. As a result, the customers affected by the meter reading glitch either received a double bill—two months of electricity charges in one month's bill—or were sent two electric bills about two weeks apart.
Electricity consumption has broken records because of the record heat in Texas, which has sent electricity bills skyrocketing. So naturally, customers who received two months' charges in a single bill were not happy, even though they went a month without having to pay a bill. Many retail electric providers have said that they would help those customers affected by the glitch who might have trouble paying their bills.
Oncor says the software problem has been fixed, and that it apologizes "...for any inconvenience it has caused to customers."
In a different type of automation error but also affecting an energy company, two weeks ago the BBC reported that EDF Energy, Britain's largest electricity generator, admitted that some 100 000 of its customers have been over-charged for the past seven years, from October 2003 to May 2010, because there was a glitch EDF's automated telephone meter reading system. An unknown number of customers were undercharged because of the glitch as well.
Most of the overcharges were less than £5, but some were found to be nearer £500.
An EDF spokesperson said that:
"We would like to apologise to those customers impacted by this issue and reassure them that as soon as it was identified, corrective action was taken."
Hopefully, EDF's next automated mistake won't take seven years to identity and correct.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.