Monday, May 16, 2011

Post # 68 - New CPUC Smart Meter Privacy Rules

In late 2009. the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that the big three investor-owned utilities in California -- Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric -- would have to provide their customers with real-time residential usage data through smart meters by the end of 2011 (to see the order, click here). In addition, the CPUC directed PG&E, SCE and SDG&E to also provide that usage data on a “near real time basis” to companies that those consumers choose to work with.

In a new draft decision, he CPUC has now taken the process a step further by outlining the privacy rules for how that data can be shared and stored between the utilities and other companies that customers choose to work with.

The information they have to hand out includes bill-to-date, bill forecast data, projected month-end tiered rate, a rate calculator, and notifications to customers as they cross rate tiers.

Because the CPUC can’t directly control the third party companies that consumers may contract with, the CPUC created rules for devices that will access the data from the smart meter.

For consumers who want to share their information with an outside company, a utility tariff will require that any home area network device that is “locked” to a certain third party, which will start transferring information from the smart meter, must be in compliance with the CPUC requirements. The utilities have six months to create those tariffs. They also must start a pilot study within six months to provide real-time or near-real-time pricing information to their customers.

For devices that aren’t locked into a particular third party, the utility will be charged with making consumers aware of “the potential uses and abuses of usage data should the customer forward or otherwise provide the data to another entity.”

Although companies such as demand response giant EnerNOC would like data access as soon as possible and argue that existing California legislation provides adequate privacy protection, see here, consumer advocates and others, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are calling for even more stringent measures.

The decision by the CPUC also leaves some ambiguity over what to do if customers pick a device that bypasses the smart meter. However, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get the information will be to go through the meter, so at the end of the day, startups and consumer giants alike will probably choose to take the data straight from the horse’s mouth -- even if it means playing by the CPUC's rules.

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