New technologies challenge our ability to manage them.  Do you recall that many users of social networks like MySpace and Facebook were chagrined to discover that their personal information has achieved immortality on the Internet?  In many cases, users failed to appreciate the ramifications of their decisions about sharing information.  The harm in some cases in which privacy was compromised was mere embarrassment, but in other scenarios the damage could be more serious. 

Could the new personal energy consumption data that will be available through new Smart Grid technologies and services have the potential for malicious as well as beneficial use?  The answer is yes.  Leaving aside all discussion of security, here are my answers to the questions posed last week to help you understand the need for strong privacy protections of our personal energy consumption data:    

  1. Who “owns” my personal energy consumption data?  Me.  I own it, and I give permission to service providers to have access to it.  Of course, the entity that delivers electricity must have certain data to bill customers for the total amount of energy consumed, just as electric utilities have that stewardship of that information today.
  2. What rules govern its availability, storage, and disposal?  This is a murky area.  There are few policies in place today about managing access, storage, and disposal of personal energy consumption data.  There are state and federal laws about personal information, but these are typically focused on data that does not include energy use.  Therefore, we need to ensure that laws address personal energy consumption data and clearly identify ownership and authorization rights. 
  3. Who makes these rules and how are they enforced?  It would be nice to have a comprehensive federal law that governs personal energy consumption data, so that state regulators, municipalities and co-ops could develop regulations that align to it.
  4. What are potential commercial uses of my personal energy consumption data?  Here are a few hypothetical situations, with two caveats.  First, these examples deliberately exclude Home Energy Management Systems, which can take this data and save us money and reduce our carbon footprints.  Second, these are purely hypothetical musings.  Much like information is collected to form your credit score, in the future third party entities might collect personal energy consumption information to form a carbon footprint score or an energy score.  This information might be purchased by potential employers or landlords to determine if you will be an energy guzzler in their operations or properties.  Market research firms might analyze personal energy consumption data and extrapolate lifestyle information so they can target ads and promotions to you.  Insurance companies might develop new calculations that tie energy consumption to health or longevity. 

This may all be possible, but it should only occur with our explicit consent for our data to be used by these third parties.  If they can make a compelling case of the benefits that accrue to us for this commercial use of our data, I’ll listen.  

To learn more about information that smart meters can deliver, join me at the Metering, Billing/MDM America conference in San Diego on March 7-10.  This annual event draws innovating utilities, meter manufacturers, and thought leaders to discuss not only theory but reality in Smart Grid deployments.

For my Silicon Valley readers, don’t miss the Sustainable Silicon Valley/Santa Clara University Smart Microgrid event on February 23 to hear about this local university’s plans to take their microgrid and make it a smart microgrid.

Shout Out

If you are interested in a green career, there’s a new book, Green Careers for Dummies, by Carol McClelland, PhD that delivers an excellent education for readers into a wide range of job possibilities and how to position their education, skills, and interests into fulfilling careers – including Smart Grid careers.  I particularly liked how careers are divided into categories such as Careers in Rebuilding the Infrastructure and Providing Green Products and Services.  These categories help readers target their interests and clearly describe dynamic new career areas like the Smart Grid as well as identify example job positions and important industry and market trends.  I highly recommend it. 

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