CenterPoint, in fact, has said its system,
known as Energy InSight, is more than simply a meter. It’s a
complicated grouping that integrates various technologies.
Data is transmitted from the meters to cell relays, which
are wireless devices installed on power distribution poles.
Cell relays pick up signals from meters in the vicinity and
transmit the data by radio.
What the system is not is a Home Area
Network, which allows customers to connect up to five
electrical appliances to it in order to take readings on
energy use by specific appliance.
“Right now, they are not available, but we are testing the
technology,” said CenterPoint spokeswoman Alicia Dixon. “It
might be something a regional provider would offer. They
may, eventually, be available at a big box stores.”
1.7 million smart meters
CenterPoint has installed 1.7 million smart meters in the
greater Houston area since 2009, with technicians working
their way from the heart of the city outward. By 2012,
roughly 2.2 million of the devices will be in place.
With such a large amount of new technology, security is of
“paramount importance,” Dixon said. “While actively
monitoring the security of our systems, we also employ
multiple third-party vendors to audit our security practices
and test the protection of our systems on a regular basis.”
Still, some computer security experts say it is the
interactivity of these systems and power grids that make
them targets in the first place. They are, at their most
basic, computers attached to networks.
“I've got one of these smart meters on my house, so I'm
certainly sensitive to these issues,” professor Dan Wallach,
who manages Rice University’s computer security lab, said
via email. “There are really several distinct issues here.”
He said beyond consumers trying to “hack” their way to free
electricity, possibly affecting others, a third party might
remotely shut off someone else’s supply through a mechanism
installed to deal with delinquent payments.
Wallach echoed Smits’ thoughts about such seemingly easy
access to usage patterns. “You can clearly see when we woke
up and started turning things on.”
And, his expert opinion on how difficult it would be for an
outsider to hack into the system, maybe figuring out
something beyond just when the lights go on and off?
“I've offered my services to CenterPoint, in a consulting
capacity, to help them answer your very question,” he said.
“They politely declined. So, I really have no idea.”
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