Concerns and controversy related to the deluge of consumption and other data that is collected by utilities from two-way communicating (AMI) meters. The back offices of utilities are trying to figure out how to collect, organize, and effectively analyze and securely store all that information to improve operational efficiency, and increase reliability.
However, utilities are dealing with the customer facing issues, and regulatory implications of data that have arisen in recent years as the penetration of advanced metering infrastructure has increased. The typical questions bandied about in policy-making circles are who owns that information, and how it is being used.
Some will remember that as little as between 15 and 25 years ago, telecommunications companies were dealing with privacy issues and caller ID. In 1995, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) affirmed residential telephone data is owned by the carriers, and can be seen by customers requesting information about their own accounts. The telephone companies can use that information for internal purposes only. Data is only disclosed when aggregated and personally identifiable information cannot be discerned, or if there is a lawful request through the courts to obtain the data.
It seems a rational approach would be that ownership of customer data from electric, gas, and water services collected by way of AMR and AMI communications networks owned and operated by utilities should be regarded and managed similarly.
Concerns over privacy have been expressed by various consumer advocates. There is a belief that utilities would be interested in, for example, when someone is showering (hot water heater use); laundering (dryer use), and waking (coffee maker and toaster use). In other words, utilities would be able to track habits for purposes other than billing and offering utility programs such as demand response.
Regulators are taking steps to ensure that customer information has limited use. For example, last week at the Smart Metering Forum in London, the national approach—described by U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) minister Baroness Verma—proposes rules that suppliers can have access to monthly data without customer consent, largely for billing purposes. However, suppliers cannot provide certain types of consumption data for marketing services without the customer’s explicit consent.
At a local level, Oklahoma’s Electric Usage Data Protection Act supports customer privacy and utility access. Utilities can use the data for billing, understanding operational needs and for marketing utility programs to customers. Other uses of the data are prohibited unless customer consent is obtained.
Utilities in the U.S. are regulated at the state-level, but are influenced by national entities. Last year, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, passed a resolution articulating a sweeping set of Smart Grid principles including one on data privacy that supports utility uses, and provides guidance on third-party access to that information.
However, policy formation will be drawn out over time with each jurisdiction “remaking the wheel” and arriving at more or less the same conclusion. At least for now, the issues and debates over ownership will continue as each state processes, understands, socializes, and adopts its own rules. This is a seemingly inefficient way to address an important issue, but the state-by-state exercise on data ownership and privacy is a necessary part of rolling out the Smart Grid in a manner that eases the introduction of and facilitates education and acceptance of game-changing new technologies.
By: Brian Pugliese, senior principal consultant, Management & Operations Consulting, DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability