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Recommended Action. Smart meters: Let's be clever and team up

15 June, 2011
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This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Mitmachen! Smart Metering: Seid klug und schließt Euch zusammen!


The European Union decided that 80% of all users are to have a smart meter in 2020. These instruments will then measure the consumption of gas and electricity. They can be integrated in a smart grid, a network of users and producers that ensures better tuning of supply and demand. When solar generators produce electricity, the washing machine can best do its work.

This part sounds good? What about civil and digital rights? The issue is related since there are also potentially some undesirable effects attached to this new technology:

Privacy: The government, electricity producers and/or others may gain access to detailed information about our energy use. The government may use this information for investigations about when you were home, if you have a new partner, if you lead a healthy life. You name it. Energy companies may decide to target you with specific advertisements or sell the information. In California, the energy company PG&E, smart meter producer GE and Google work together. Also, criminals can use the information to build a profile and ultimately use it for identity-theft, a once science fiction nightmare that for many became a reality. Look it up if identity-theft is an abstract word for you.

Security: This is closely linked to privacy. A leaky system will reveal privacy data. In addition, the smart meter might give access to equipment inside the house like the connected PC. Hacking the smart grid can also give access to the light switch for the grid. By the way: smart meters can cut off your energy remotely.

Electrosmog: With the authorities (WHO, Council of Europe) warning against electromagnetic radiation, the dangers of wireless technology might finally be taken seriously. Might. A smart meter can be equipped with wireless technology, like GPRS, "RF-meshed" or a separate, more secure protocol/frequency. Depending on the type of network and the information exchange rate, the radiation can be more or less serious for the health of humans, animals and plants. There is an alternative using wired technology. It's called PLC or Power Line Carrier. Italy has already implemented this system.

These are a few of the issues that surround smart meters. We're in the early stages still. In Brussels, the representatives from all EU countries meet to decide on the technology and the demands for smart meters, including the rules and regulations.

The zeal to implement the smart grid is staggering. For the Netherlands the whole issue started with a law proposal that would force every user to accept the smart meter. This came out when Vrijbit, a Dutch privacy organisation, and the Dutch Consumer NGO (Consumentenbond) read the small print. Those who would refuse the smart meter could face up to 6 months imprisonment. This brutal force was reason for the Senate to reject the law proposal. The revised law passed early this year.

Now the Dutch pilot-implementation is planned by the start of 2012, comprising 400 000 smart meters in 2 years. After the evaluation in the parliament (end 2013), the final roll-out would comprise 7 million smart meters. If it all satisfies the needs, i.e. a lot can still change.

In a recent meeting with people from the Ministry of Economic Affairs we discussed privacy aspects of the smart meter. They made it clear that if issues like privacy are to be taken seriously, European privacy organisations need to team up. If pressure is applied now, if representatives are compelled to take this issue seriously, then this increases the chance for a better smart meter. From a manufacturing viewpoint, special wishes will only be turned into actual product features if there is sufficient market for these.

I am already member of Vrijbit, a Dutch privacy organisation. Other EDRi members are also interested in smart meters as well. Are you a member of a privacy organisation and interested in smart meters? Do you know people who are? Let us establish a network to ensure our demands on privacy are known in Brussels. Let's team up!

Contact me by Twitter: Mr_Communicator or eMail: smitentertainmentedhotmail_com (Subject: Let's team up!)

Dutch government public message 'What is a smart meter?' (only in Dutch)
http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/energie-en-kleinverbruikers/sl...

Vrijbit: File on Smart Meters (only in Dutch)
https://www.vrijbit.nl/dossier/financien/dossier-slimme-meters.html

The dark side of 'smart' meters (1.11.2010)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLeCTaSG2-U

The dark side of the smart electrical grid (24.10.2010)
http://www.plusultratech.com/2010/10/dark-side-of-smart-electrical-gri...

Article 29 Working Party Opinion 12/2011 on smart metering (4.04.2011)
http://ec.europa.eu/justice/policies/privacy/docs/wpdocs/2011/wp183_en...

(Contribution by Hendrick Smit, Utrecht, The Netherlands)

 

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