Will Smart Grids Encroach on Your Privacy?

“Smart grid” technologies are designed to give utility companies greater control over household energy use, enabling them to smooth power demand surges and reduce overall use.

These technologies focus on home power meters that can display energy use in real time to consumers, and allow the meters to wirelessly communicate with the power companies, helping them forecast demand, charge more at peak times of day, and even turn off individual appliances remotely.

The debate over the data-gathering capabilities of meters has come to a head in the UK where prompted comparisons with “spies” in people’s homes.

“We, Siemens, have the technology to record it (energy consumption) every minute, second, microsecond, more or less live,” said Martin Pollock of Siemens Energy, an arm of the German engineering giant, which provides metering services.

“From that we can infer how many people are in the house, what they do, whether they’re upstairs, downstairs, do you have a dog, when do you habitually get up, when did you get up this morning, when do you have a shower: masses of private data.”

“We think the regulator needs to send a strong signal to say that the data belongs to consumers and consumers alone. We believe that’s a blocker to people adopting the technology,” he told the Smart Grids and Cleanpower conference in Cambridge.

In a U.S. pilot of behavior based on the extra information smart meters provide, householders were happy to change the time they used the microwave, but not washing machines, said GE Energy’s Martin Ansell. “The customer response was don’t control when I can do the laundry and use the dishwasher,” he said.

As this functionality rolls out in the US, these same challenges will be in place. We need to ensure that regulation precedes implementation, and not the other way around.

For more information on the issues see Privacy concerns challenge smart grid rollout

Linda

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