Posts Tagged ‘Privacy’

This is the second part of a two-part series (the first part provides an introduction) discussing the role of smart grids in electric power distribution systems. We will explore some past and current installations of smart grids, discussing their motivating factors, planning, implementation and results. Essentially, this article is a discussion where we learn both from our successes and our failures in the power industry, to inform our future decisions.


Smart meters are the some of the earliest intelligent devices installed in distribution networks and critical to enabling the smart grid of the future.  One of the biggest issues that every smart grid initiative encounters when attempting to incorporate the technology into their system is the public perception that smart meters violate the right to privacy.  Consequently, if the utility does not handle the situation tactfully, the reduction in the rate of consumer participation can diminish the practical gain from smart grid installations.

As mentioned previously, smart meters are capable of communicating wirelessly with the utility, receiving consumer usage data with the potential to control OpenHAN-compliant appliances remotely.  In the face of intelligent adversaries with increasingly powerful computing systems, it is important to provide a significant degree of security and future proofing.

In 2005, the Netherlands electricity distribution company Oxxio began widespread introduction of a smart meter for both gas and electricity.  When the European parliament issued a directive to member states to begin installation of smart metering equipment, the public was neither educated nor reassured about the new technology.  Economy minister Maria van der Hoeven decided to push for compulsory installation of smart meters and punishing refusal to install them with a fine of up to €17,000 or six months in prison.  Amidst privacy concerns, consumer protection organizations fought rigorously against the law and won; smart meters can now only be installed on a voluntary basis as requested by consumers [1].

We must learn from this stark lesson and avoid a similar outcome in future installations by ensuring adequate education for the public in order to assuage their fears and uncertainty, ultimately to ensure vital consumer participation.


While the amount and timing of data provided by smart meters from the field does not pose serious privacy risks from internal misuse, there many security concerns surrounding external adversaries.  In particular, there is the potential for malicious users to modify their usage data in order to influence consumer billing, either by reducing their own consumption or as a financial attack against someone else.  Since the utilities would be making design decisions based on the recorded trends, outside manipulation of the data could cause catastrophic effects to equipment if not upgraded when needed due to underrepresentation of actual power consumption.

In Ontario, the current smart grid deployment initiative involves the government, Hydro One’s distribution business as well as other local utilities.  It demonstrates the need for very close cooperation between the utilities and their regulatory bodies, especially since much of their current success can be attributed to their work communicating with users.  Learning from errors in past smart grid implementations, the Ontario government established several websites acting as a central point of origin describing smart meters, their function and their overall objectives.

For support for the technical aspects of the deployment, Hydro One has partnered with Trilliant Technologies, which is a company that “provides intelligent network solutions and software to utilities for advanced metering, and Smart Grid management” [2].  Trilliant’s expertise and extensive smart metering technology portfolio reduces Hydro One’s risk and guarantees a higher degree of flexibility than with other vendors.  The smart meters operate in the unlicensed 2.4GHz radio frequency commonly used for ZigBee, Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11) and Bluetooth, with Trilliant providing both the metering and the related communication infrastructure.  Trilliant also designed the 1.3 million smart meters currently being deployed by Hydro One’s distribution arm.

Thus far, current efforts to ensure network security and likewise to assure and encourage consumer participation in Ontario have been a success, and there are many other similar efforts taking place in other countries at this time.  Because smart meters involve using an extremely complex device to do measurement for billing purposes, it must be completely free of defects, especially in light of Canadian requirements like the Weights & Measures Act.


As climate change raises the average global temperature, Australia’s climate is one of the hardest hit: becoming hotter and drier than ever before.  Australia continues to consume a considerable amount of electricity; in fact, 261.8 TWh of electricity was produced in Australia during 2006, and that figure is projected to reach 413 TWh by 2030 [3].

With electricity demand continuing to rise, the utility may soon need to consider construction of new generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure.  However, maintenance of an aging system is itself extremely costly, and simultaneously investing in new infrastructure is simply not feasible.  As a result, Australia decided to implement dynamic rating of equipment in both their transmission and distribution systems, allowing them to better utilize existing infrastructure.  For an example comparing static equipment ratings with those dynamically generated by Australia’s control system, see Dynamic Equipment Rating.

[1] Wilmer Heck. (2009, April) Smart energy meter will not be compulsory. [Online].   http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2207260.ece/Smart_energy_meter_will_not_be_compulsory
[2] Trilliant, Inc. (2010, March) Trilliant, Inc. – Communications for the Smart Grid. [Online].   http://www.trilliantinc.com/
[3] Cagil Ozansoy, “Turning Down the Heat,” Australia’s Fast-Growing Electricity Sector Ramps Up Its Global Warming Initiatives, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 29-36, January-February 2010.

I originally wrote this article for a report submitted to ECE4439: Conventional, Renewable and Nuclear Energy, taught by Professor Amirnaser Yazdani at the University of Western Ontario.

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