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  Security And Safety Fears Hit Smart Metering Programme

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01 February 2012

Safety concerns could scupper government plans to reduce carbon emissions and through smart metering.

The government plans to put 53 million smart meters in homes and businesses in the UK as part of a programme to reduce energy consumption. But it could face a major challenge in the face of concerns about the safety of smart meters in the home and the potential invasion of privacy.

According to a Telegraph report, plans to make smart meters compulsory in homes has been shelved over concerns about privacy and safety. MPs and campaign groups have raised concerns about the electromagnetic radiation emitted 24 hours a day by the meters – as well as concerns over privacy as a result of the data collected about people's living habits.

The Telegraph quoted sources in the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which is running the programme, as saying a proposal for mandatory adoption was shelved to avoid the programme getting bogged down in lengthy legal disputes.

But the DECC told Computer Weekly there was never an intention to make smart meters compulsory: "Nothing has been shelved and there's been no change to our smart meter plans - suppliers will be required to undertake a national roll-out of smart meters to more than 30 million homes and small businesses by 2019.

"We have never said it will be an offence for householders to refuse to accept a smart meter and we have made it clear that we do not expect suppliers to seek an entry warrant simply to fit smart metering equipment."

The GB Smart Metering Implementation Programme (GB SMIP) is estimated to cost 11.7bn.

GB SMIP aims to allow gas and electricity consumption to be monitored to provide information that will help consumers and businesses use energy more efficiently. This promises to lower bills, reduce the UK's carbon footprint and help energy firms to provide better and therefore prevent shortages.

Chris King, chief regulatory office of eMeter and chairman of the smart energy demand coalition (SEDC), said the government needs to address the concerns, such as privacy, if the benefits are to be achieved. He said: “Smart Meters are essential for the development of a smart grid model where consumers will understand their energy. The model should not only enable consumers to understand how they consume and sometimes also produce it, but also where their grid-connected power comes from, and its real cost.

“It is also important for officials to recognise that privacy is a feature, not a bug. Smart grid systems must be designed with respect for consumer privacy as a core foundational requirement.

"Privacy principles should be part of the smart grid’s overall project governance framework and privacy requirements should be included in system designs. In smart grid systems, consumers should never have to take action to ensure their privacy.”

The IT that underpins GB SMIP is set to be one of the biggest challenges of the project because it requires major investment. The total bill will cover smart meters, smart communicating sensors, modules, advanced communications networks and technology to secure data.

A company will be set up to manage the data smart meters send and receive, which will require services from IT and communication suppliers. "Communication of data to and from smart meters in the domestic sector will be managed centrally by a new, GB-wide function covering both the electricity and gas sectors," said the DECC.

DECC has already begun procurement for the function, known as the central data and communications company (DCC). "In advance of the appointment of the DCC, it is intended that DECC would initiate the process for procurement of the data and communication services that will be contracted to DCC," said a DECC notice. It wants suppliers for a wide area network, telephone and data transmission services, data transmission services and IT services - including consulting, software development, internet and support.

It has also called on IT suppliers to build the data and communications infrastructure to enable data to be sent between smart meters in homes and businesses and the DCC. The deal could be worth up to 4.5bn.

Meanwhile a single supplier is being sought to provide IT services to the DCC for up to nine years in a contact worth up to 240m. The services are: systems integration and implementation; software development, integration, testing and integration with communications systems; IT hosting, including the provision of datacentres and computer servers on a managed-service basis; and the support and maintenance of the software once implemented.

Security, safety and IT concerns are not the end of the SMIP's challenges to win hearts and minds. A survey of 1,000 consumers carried out by the Economist Intelligence unit for smart meter technology provider T-Systems revealed fears of initial price rises and a lack of evidence on future savings associated with the government's plans. The government estimates the smart metering programme will increase annual domestic energy and gas bills for the average dual-fuel customer of 6 by 2015, but by 2020 it will deliver a net annual saving of 23.

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