Privacy concerns challenge smart grid rollout

Fri Jun 25, 2010 7:11am EDT
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By Gerard Wynn

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters Life!) - Wary homeowners could scupper the rollout of smart technologies meant to boost energy efficiency, without secure controls over data and access to appliances, executives said this week.

"Smart grid" technologies potentially allow utilities greater control over household energy use, helping smooth demand surges and curbing overall use.

Technologies center around home meters which display live energy use to consumers and allow two-way wireless communication with utilities, so these can forecast demand, charge more at peak times and even switch off individual appliances remotely.

Rollout is at an early stage, drawing comparisons with broadband internet a decade ago, but gathering pace. Britain, for example, plans a nationwide deployment, seeing energy security and carbon emissions benefits.

But the data-gathering power of meters has 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.   Continued...