To a growing number of electricity users – in
other words, everyone – smart meters may be a little too
smart for comfort.
“You know, I thought it was funny years back when my elderly
neighbor used to gripe about the meter-reader prowling
around in the back yard,” said William Smits. “Now, I look
at this printout and wonder what he’d say.”
The a Montrose-area resident held a smart-meter usage
report, which charted the amount of power consumed in his
residence in 15 minute increments. It is available to
customers who type in a password online.
“Even a dummy can tell when we get up, go to bed, come
home,” he said. “Who knows what else isn’t listed here, or
how easy it is to hack into something like this?”
Marketed by CenterPoint and other power companies as a
breakthrough in managing energy more efficiently, Smits’
concerns may not be as ill-founded as some people might
think. True, your neighbors – maybe even an occasional
prowler – can likely already figure out when you are home
without being particularly ingenious. After all, cars move
from driveways; lights can be seen going out through closed
However, no less an authority than the Department of Energy
has said smart meters, along with smart grids, could be used
for more than computing bills and making adjustments to
prevent power outages.
Feds weigh in
In its definitive October 2010 report “Data Access and
Privacy Issues Related to Smart Grid Technologies,” the DOE
“Advances in smart grid technology could significantly
increase the amount of potentially available information
about personal energy consumption … whether their
(customers’) homes are equipped with alarm systems, whether
they own expensive electronic equipment such as plasma TVs,
and whether they use certain types of medical equipment.”
Nonetheless, the report added, smart-grid technologies will
advance with consumer demand for smart appliances, and not
without some significant benefits along the way.
Among the advantages cited: the "enormous potential” for
utilities and third-party providers to help consumers
“significantly reduce energy consumption” through better
managing their use of increasingly complex devices.
Also, both the DOE and CenterPoint said the technology
should help in avoiding the expense of breakdowns and
repairs, in part, because the provider will know about
potential problems before receiving calls from users.
The cost of the smart meters to customers is $3.05 a month
for six years, an amount reduced recently as a result of a
DOE smart grid grant, CenterPoint said.
Still, while the technology currently in place lacks many of
the Big Brother-like capabilities cited in the DOE report,
and CenterPoint has repeatedly said customer usage data is
not categorized by individual appliance, some residents are
less concerned about “bad guys” knowing they are out, than
they are with what certain “good guys,” someday, might be
able to access.
“People are starting to wake up to it,” said Ginger Russell,
a Magnolia resident. “Some people are worried insurance
companies could look at your sleeping habits and turn you
down. Then there’s marketers and sales. All kinds of
She and a group of residents recently went so far as to
organize a protest at CenterPoint’s Greens Point Service
Center, after a town hall meeting, expected to be attended
by energy company representatives, failed to materialize.
“It (the flow of information) doesn’t stop at the meter.
Look how much you have to do for your computer to be
secure,” said Russell, who vows to fight smart-meter
installation at her home.
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