With the expansion of near real-time data collection from smart energy meters connected to a Smart Grid, utilities are entering a new digital era. They are beginning to acquire the capacity to talk to meters or consumers in their homes and are progressing rapidly toward real-time data collections along their entire network, this data will need protecting.
The benefits are clear. Meter reading costs are reduced as companies can monitor and measure usage in real time and customers have access to more accurate billing and improved payment services. Equally, a Smart Grid means better quality of service and reductions in outage duration. When coupled with dynamic pricing, consumers also gain the ability to manage their energy bills and reduce usage and CO2 emissions.
The utility of the future will be one that thrives in this real-time environment, but it is a double-edged sword that requires careful handling.
Utilities have done an excellent job in managing sensitive information about their customers in the current closed architecture environment. However, real-time utilities face new data management challenges. The data collected from smart meters, connected to and integrated with a Smart Grid, can show what appliance a consumer was using and when they were using it, all in the privacy of their own home. Abuses, whether accidental or deliberate, could lead to fines and penalties. Worse still, would be the resulting loss of consumer confidence and pressure for more restrictive regulation.
So utilities must prepare their business and systems for managing real-time privacy. This means:
Mapping out data and privacy risks. Risks may only arise when data is combined with other sources; having a clear understanding of those risks allows a utility to target its efforts more effectively.
Implement risk reduction measures. Encryption is a well-known tool for data protection but many more measures are available. Utilities should use the full array of risk reduction measures to protect information.
Help customers manage their own privacy Utilities should engage customers in a dialogue so they have the tools to safeguard their own data and to ensure companies protect any vulnerable customer groups.
Engage with external stakeholders. Regulators, governing associations, media and the public need to know that utilities are taking a responsible approach and given the chance to contribute to the development of further safeguards.
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