Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Post # 44 - DOE Weighs In On Smart Grid Privacy

In Post No. 7, I discussed aspects of the Federal Communication Commission's National Broadband Plan (NBP). Released last Spring at the direction of Congress, the NBP is the FCC's plan to improve broadband internet access in the United State. The NBP includes recommendations specifically addressing Smart Grid applications -- including recommendations directed to the U.S. Department of Energy. Among those recommendations are that (a) DOE evaluate consumer data accessibility policies when evaluating Smart Grid grant applications; (b) DOE report on the states’ progress toward enacting consumer data accessibility, and (c) DOE develop best practices guidance for the states.

Last week, in response to those particular NBP recommendations, DOE released “Data Access and Privacy Issues Related to Smart Grid Technologies.” In preparing this report, DOE surveyed industry, state and federal practices with respect to Smart Grid technologies, focusing on the issue of residential consumer data security and privacy. DOE says that smart meters became a "focal point" of the report due to their "ability to measure, record and transmit granular individual consumption.” But the report also notes that a truly effective smart grid will consist of "hundreds of technologies and thousands of components, most of which do not generate data relevant to consumer privacy."

Among the report’s findings:

  • There is considerable consensus that consumer education and flexibility regarding smart grid technologies, as well as the pace of deployment of such technologies, will be critical to their long-term success.
  • Many smart grid technologies generate granular or detailed consumer-specific energy-usage data (CEUD) that could reveal personal details about the lives of consumers, "such as their daily schedules (including times when they are at or away from home or asleep), whether their homes are equipped with alarm systems, whether they own expensive electronic equipment such as plasma TVs, and whether they use certain types of medical equipment." Because data of this nature is both valuable and sensitive, adequate privacy protections are necessary.
  • Utilities should continue to have access to CEUD and be able to use CEUD for utility-related business purposes.
  • There is “almost universal consensus” that consumers should be able to access their CEUD. Moreover, consumers should be able to decide whether and for what purposes, other than the provision of electrical power, any third-party should be authorized to access their CEUD.
  • Although the report focused on residential consumer data security and privacy, many commentators agree that the energy-usage data of commercial or organizational consumers of utilities should be treated as CEUD and commercial or organizational consumers should be able to protect the privacy of their energy-usage data.
  • The deployment of smart grid technologies should be flexible and take into consideration the special circumstances of rural, low-income, minority and elderly electric utility consumers.
  • States should focus on whether, or how, they should regulate the process through which consumer can authorize third-party access to their CEUD.
  • A central "clearinghouse" for available information about practices and information relating to the regulation of the privacy and data protection aspects of the Smart Grid technologies should be created.

DOE's privacy report was release in conjunction with a second report, “Communications Requirements of Smart Grid Technologies,” also issued in response to the NBP. The second report report examines how the communications needs of utilities and the electrical grid are likely to evolve as smart grid technologies become more widely used. This report recommends that to improve overall coordination, utilities and other smart grid constituents should be represented on key federal industry committees that address communications- and network-related security and reliability issues.

No comments:

Post a Comment