Renewable electricity: getting the context right to make it work
26th September 2013
Research for renewables
26th September 2013

Smart Meters: Better by Design

Des Connolly Des Connolly, Gemserv’s Business Development Manager in Ireland, looks at the data privacy and protection implications which need to be considered in the planning of a smart metering roll-out.

While smart meters offer consumers greater control over energy use, public acceptability is increasingly seen as vital to the success of mass rollout programmes.

Concerns over data privacy and protection in countries which have already begun installing smart meters have in some cases led to delays and the need for retrospective changes to systems, processes and controls.

Taking the right approach to designing smart metering programmes at the earliest stages can provide consumers with the necessary reassurance on privacy and minimise the risks of potential problems for stakeholders.

Smart meters represent a major change in the scale of information collected on domestic energy use. A conventional ‘dumb’ meter provides only a handful of readings a year but smart meters could see that increase to hundreds or thousands.

In isolation, such data may be of limited value, but combined with other data, it could provide deep insight into consumption patterns.

As smart grids develop, a consumer’s usage pattern could potentially provide information such as when homes are typically occupied and what devices they use. Although these patterns can be useful for analysing both the import and export of electricity, they could also be valuable to third parties for purposes such as marketing and advertising.

Personal privacy is increasingly seen as a human right, so programmes are being adopted that allow consumers to choose how their consumption data is being used, and by whom (except where it is needed to meet legal requirements). Designing in appropriate controls, policies and procedures around data collection and availability is therefore essential.

Given the scale of additional data which will be generated by smart meters, it is vital to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and is appropriately encrypted, controlled and stored.

Data security issues need to be considered at a number of different stages in the operation of smart meters. As well as ensuring the integrity of smart meters in homes to prevent hacking, encryption issues also need to be addressed to ensure information communicated by wireless or over networks can’t be used to identify consumers or reveal sensitive information.

Access controls and protocols for how long data can be retained and how it should be disposed of are also important issues to be addressed.

A ‘privacy by design’ approach is increasingly being adopted in the development of smart metering programmes and aims to consider and embed privacy issues into the overall design of a programme from the outset.

This seeks to ensure that any issues which could lead to consumers being damaged or embarrassed are considered and addressed during the design phase.

Data minimisation, to ensure that the collection, use, disclosure, and retention of personal information is no more than necessary, and data anonymisation, to protect individual consumers from the risk of harm following a data breach, are also key considerations.

The importance of consumer confidence over privacy concerns was highlighted by the experience of early smart meter adopters such as California and the Netherlands.

Concerns raised by a consumer group in the Netherlands over a potential breach of human rights legislation led to the initial rejection of a Bill proposing the mandatory roll-out of smart meters and delays in the planned programme.

The proposals had to be revisited and more stringent data privacy and protection policies designed.

The privacy concerns addressed by those countries which have begun smart metering installation programmes provide valuable experience for future roll-outs.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Des Connolly on +44 (0)7703883150 or email

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