Privacy and Cyber Security

Privacy and cybersecurity issues, due to the granular nature of data collected through the use of digital smart meters, have been well documented.  Here is a quotation from a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) document published in August 2010:

“Smart meter data raises potential surveillance possibilities posing physical, financial, and reputational risks.  Because smart meters collect energy data at much shorter time intervals than in the past (in 15-minute or sub-15-minute intervals rather than once a month), the information can reveal much more detailed information about the activities within a dwelling or other premises than was available in the past.  This is because smart meter data provides information about the usage patterns for individual appliances—which in turn can reveal detailed information about activities within a premise through the use of nonintrusive appliance load monitoring (NALM) techniques…. For example, research shows that analyzing 15-minute interval aggregate household energy consumption data can by itself pinpoint the use of most major home appliances. …   NALM techniques have many beneficial uses, including pinpointing loads for purposes of load balancing or increasing energy efficiency.  However, such detailed information about appliance use can also reveal whether a building is occupied or vacant, show residency patterns over time, and reflect intimate details of people’s lives and their habits and preferences inside their homes.”  [emphasis added]

Full Reference for the above quotation:  NISTIR 7628, “Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security: vol. 2, Privacy and the Smart Grid,” August 2010, pp 13-14.

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According a 2009 report for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, entitled, “Smart Metering & Privacy:  Existing Law and Competing Policies,” it was stated that “insufficient oversight of this [smart metering] could also lead to unprecedented invasions of consumer privacy.  Many intricate details of household life can be gleaned from information obtained via advanced metering infrastructure.” [emphasis added]  This statement was followed with the figure shown below.

Customer Load Profile

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In January 2011, the US Government Accountability Office issued a document entitled, GAO Report #GAO-11-117, “Electricity Grid Modernization.”  Summary information for the report includes the following:

“GAO identified the following six key challenges:

1)    Aspects of the regulatory environment may make it difficult to ensure smart grid systems’ cybersecurity.

2)    Utilities are focusing on regulatory compliance instead of comprehensive security.

3)    The electric industry does not have an effective mechanism for sharing information on cybersecurity.

4)    Consumers are not adequately informed about the benefits, costs, and risks associated with smart grid systems. [emphasis added]

5)    There is a lack of security features being built into certain smart grid systems.

6)    The electricity industry does not have metrics for evaluating cybersecurity.”

For the full report, refer to the following link:  http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11117.pdf

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Specifically for the City of Naperville, Illinois, government officials generally state that smart meters cannot determine the personal habits of residents.  For example, in response to the question, “Can the utility monitor my consumption and know when I’m home?” … the response was, “The utility cannot detect the presence of people in their homes; only the consumption of electricity is measured for billing purposes.”

[Reference:  Naperville Smart Grid Initiative Question/Response Inventory, dated March 25, 2013.]

How does the above statement compare with the facts?  Does the smart meter only measure consumption of electricity for billing purposes?

First of all, we have the comments by Naperville City Council member Robert Fieseler on August 16, 2011, at a City Council meeting, where he stated, “No one is able to opt-out of this program the way it’s now set up.  You’ll get a new meter.  The contract we have with the Department of Energy and the funds that we’ve accepted and the obligations that we have in my view require us to have the 57,323 meters.  We do need each meter on each house because we need to be able on a point by point basis know who is using what electricity when.  We also need to know whose electricity is on or not.”   . . .  Why?  Why do you need to know this?

The above statement would strongly suggest that the utility is collecting much more data than are required for billing purposes.  Below is a link/play button for the actual audio recording from the City Council meeting.  Listen for yourself.

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How can the City state that with a smart meter, “… only the consumption of electricity is measured for billing purposes.”?  The smart meter utilized by the City of Naperville collects usage data of a granular nature every 15-minutes.  Thus, if you do the math, this same digital smart meter records a consumer’s electrical usage up to 2,976 times per month.  For a customer with a traditional fixed-rate pricing program, only one (1) consumption data point needs to be measured and recorded per month for billing purposes.  The City of Naperville thus records almost 3,000 times more consumption data than required for billing purposes.  What is wrong with this picture?  The public relations claims do not line up with the facts, … or the “truth.”

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