Energy Privacy
Saturday, November 21, 2009 at 07:52PM
Toby Considine in Smart Grid, Standards, System Architecture

Energy Privacy was the hottest topic of Grid-Interop in Denver. Perhaps it was the Google Energy demos, which show people discussing each little recurring burst of energy use, whether refrigerator or Jacuzzi, that alerted the public to the issues. Perhaps it was when people read the UCAIug plan for OpenADE, which lists a "Law Enforcement Interface" for energy use as a higher priority than sharing information with the building occupants. Perhaps it was a late-night comedian commenting slyly that at least battery-operated devices could not be tracked, yet. Perhaps it was heightened awareness flowing over from health care debate. However it happened, privacy issues and privacy concerns became front and center at the Grid-Interop and the SGIP.

Without clear standards, and with little sense of architectural boundaries, utilities have been slowly extending control directly into the home. ZigBee Smart Energy, OpenHAN, and SEP all are premised on treating the home as an extension of the substation, another asset to serve the operational needs of the central utility. This model does more than infer energy use, as does the Google Energy model; it includes direct registration and recording of the use of each system in the home.

The NIST Smart Grid Interoperability Report reported that "distributed energy resources and smart meters will reveal information about residential consumers and activities within the house." The panel went on to cite "a lack of formal privacy policies, standards or procedures about information gathered and collected by entities involved in the smart grid." Today, there are no consistent definitions of personally identifiable information in the utility industry. In the week before Grid-Interop, there were numerous privacy meetings, expanding the conversation to include the large internet privacy advocates and public policy think tanks.

During the same week, some of the bloom went off the rose of AMI (Automated Metering Infrastructure). AMI infrastructure, or automated meter reading plus, has been touted as critical to smart grid efforts. In an effort to justify the expense of AMI deployment plans to regulators, utilities have packed more and more functions into AMI, including those described above. This has, in turn, increased the expense of the systems and opened the door to potential security holes.

The message that the public heard about AMI was that “smart meters will reduce your bill”. The message they should have heard was “smart meters will reduce your bill if you take advantage of their information and respond to dynamic prices.” Pacific Gas & Electric meters came under fire by customers whose bills went up dramatically. As far as I know, the meters were accurate, but the public is now paying closer attention—and asking questions. Some of those questions are about direct management of home systems using AMI.

The controversy went mainstream on Tuesday when a report jointly released by the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF). According to the report, “information may be gleaned from ongoing monitoring of electricity consumption such as the approximate number of occupants, when they are present, as well as when they are awake or asleep.”

My daughter summed it up; "if they can see all that stuff, it is time to tell them to take the equipment out." At Grid-Interop, several expressed a contrary view, that they needed to know more. PGE representatives believe that sharing information with the occupants is a privacy issue. If the utilities don’t understand privacy soon in a way that makes sense to their customers, they will find that instead of more control, they will get less.

And drop me a line if you want to get involved in privacy standards for new energy.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (http://www.newdaedalus.com/).
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