Smart meters: love them or loathe them?
Posted by Emma Bailey on 27 February 2015 at 11:55 am
Smart meters have proliferated rapidly in recent years. These devices enable the collection and analysis of detailed energy usage information from householders (and businesses). Proponents say that the data acquired from them could lead to increased efficiency, reduced electrical waste and, ultimately, lower prices for the end user. On the other hand, some people believe that this equipment will merely enable big companies to collect private data on individuals and use it for self-serving ends.
More than 400 professionals in the field of smart energy met at the Smart Energy UK & Europe Summit 2015 at the end of January to discuss the latest developments in smart metering technology. However, some privacy advocates believe that this summit had the effect of permitting large utility firms to compare notes on how to more efficiently collect and use customers' sensitive personal data.
The government has set a goal to have every household and business equipped with a smart meter by 2020. Around one million units have already been installed, and the public at large seems to be less than enthused with them. According to research by SQS, more than half of survey respondents believe that the ability to collect customer data is the real driving motivation behind the installation of smart meters. 37 per cent of them feel that the energy suppliers will be the ones to benefit most from the technology. Less than 30 per cent of the public thinks that ordinary people will be the ones to get the greatest benefits from smart meters.
In the same survey, almost a third of the respondents were concerned about hacking and other unauthorized access to the data gathered by smart meters. Because the meters will have to interface with much older and unsophisticated systems, there may be data leakage and vulnerabilities when meters communicate with other devices. At the same time, the security technologies incorporated into smart meters are believed by some to be inadequate, putting them at risk of attacks by hackers or other criminals. Smart meters collect data on the amount of energy used at certain times of day and different days of the week. Anyone looking at this information could gain a lot of insight into the regular habits of the residents, which is why many members of the public are wary of possible data interception and misuse.
Groups like Stop Smart Meters! (UK) have sprung up urging people to fight the spread of smart meters. Citing privacy issues, this non-profit organization encourages consumers to resist having smart meters installed at their properties. Stop Smart Meters! argues that the meters are designed to enable companies to gather personal data from their customers without lowering utility costs in any appreciable way.
The roll-out of smart meters in the UK poses opportunities and challenges to energy suppliers. If they can successfully address the worries of customers, they may be able to use the data collected to reduce costs and enable more dynamic responses to market conditions in the energy sector - such as cheaper electricity at times when demand is low. Yet a failure to deal with the negative perceptions of the devices held by many members of the public could lead to a backlash against smart meters and opposition to their adoption.
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