Smart Meter Privacy Safeguards

Author: Yana A. St. Clair, Esq.

Smart Meter Privacy Safeguards

With the advancement of Smart Grid a next-generation of smart meters are getting into the homes of numerous consumers in the US and in different parts of the EU as well. The new meters that are replacing the old technology will allow the consumers to monitor the energy they use, thus saving money for many households.

The new features included into the smart meters will make the reading and the collection of consumer electricity usage data more accurate and more efficient. Such benefits will allow:

  • "Real-time statistics on energy consumption" (TACD, June 2011)
  • Remote delivery of data, reconfiguration, tariffs changes or payment methods, and disablement/enablement (TACD, June 2011)

All these benefits however are elevating privacy concerns that are centered primarily on the collection and sharing of consumer data. The processing of energy related data may provide insight not only on personal behavior patterns, but on other sensible information related to household composition, consumer appliances and even home security.

Further, when combined with Home Area Network (HAN) enabled appliances in the near future, smart meters will also be able to collect more specific personally identifiable information. A HAN-enabled appliance transmitting specific information may reveal the time when the occupants are at home, plus the exact time of arrival. Such information may also reveal the consumer's age and even health related issues within the household.

All these issues must be considered, since no one would want to encourage, or enable and pay for, a “spy at home.” Addressing these critical issues, the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of consumer groups in Europe and North America, adopted a report on privacy and electrical services.

TACD resolves that Smart meter data collection should be limited to such data that is consumer consumption specific, however is critically necessary for accurate operations. The reporting of the data collected by the smart meters should be based on the use and purpose of the data collection.

In the document (DOC No. INFOSOC 44-11) (TACD, June 2011) released on June 2011, TACD resolves that the EU and US should:

  • Ratify or review data protection and privacy legislation to a number of issues specified in the document
  • Achieve better harmonization of utility privacy protection practices by initiating cooperation between EU and US agencies
  • "Raise utility provider and public awareness"
  • "Harmonize privacy protective statutes and regulations through universal ratification of Convention 108"

TACD further resolves that EU and US smart meter operators should: (TACD, June 2011)

  • "Integrate privacy and security by design"
  • "Enable consumers to remain masters of their data"
  • "Develop common binding ethical codes for the design, deployment and provision of utility smart meter management services, including data protection and security"

The TACD’s Smart Meter White Paper informs about steps and actions taken by the EU and by theUS government that can be seen at: epic.org/privacy/smartgrid/Smart_Meter_TACD_Resolution_FINAL.pdf

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