Smart meters – what are they and how can I find out more?
Privacy and security issues
- Are there privacy concerns about smart meters?
- I want a smart meter – how do I protect my data and stay private?
- What are the benefits of me sharing my detailed energy data?
- Are smart meters secure? Will smart meters make us vulnerable to hackers turning off our gas or electricity supply?
Are there privacy concerns about smart meters?
Most non-smart meters only record how much energy you have used in total. Smart meters will make it possible to record more detailed information on how your household uses energy, and when this energy is used. Currently smart meters do not provide detailed information on what appliances you are using (for example, when you are using a hairdryer or a toaster, and how much energy they use), but suppliers may be able to offer you complementary additional technology and services that enable this. This will be only done with your consent.
Concerns have been raised that this kind of information could invade personal privacy. For example, your energy data could indicate your pattern of living and what you are doing in your own home.
Government is taking this issue seriously. They have now introduced new smart metering protections to safeguard customer’s personal data and privacy, which will come into effect from March 2013. From March, suppliers will not be allowed to collect real-time data, and will have to get your express permission to collect your data more regularly than once a day.
Ahead of this, the major energy suppliers and some of the smaller energy suppliers have pledged not to collect real-time information, or information about the type of appliances that customers use without customers consent. The major energy suppliers have also issued a statement of their privacy commitments to customers: http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/publication/finish/37-smart-meters/448-era-privacy-commitments-for-smart-metering.html
Importantly, your energy supplier should only collect the information it needs, and has told you about. Suppliers must also comply with existing Data Protection legislation.
If you have already received a smart meter, you should be aware that many energy suppliers (though not all) collect half hourly or more detailed data. If this concerns you, we recommend you ask your energy supplier to opt out of sharing any data that is more detailed than daily. If they don’t allow you to do this, you may wish to switch supplier or decide not to have a smart meter installed until further protections are in place.
Customers should also be aware that some issues remain unclear around which parties will have access to this data and for what purposes, eg will local councils or security services have access to information?
Benefits of sharing data
There are potential benefits to sharing more detailed data with your energy supplier. For example, suppliers may be able provide you with more detailed feedback on your energy use and tips and advice on how you can save money on your energy bill eg by identifying faulty appliances or those that are using high amounts of electricity, or appliances that are on when you are out of the home. If you use a lot of your energy at off-peak times, they may also be able to identify an energy deal that could save you money (see ‘What are the benefits of me sharing my detailed energy data?’).
I want a smart meter – how do I protect my data and stay private?
Government has introduced new smart metering specific protections to safeguard customers’ personal data and privacy which will come into effect from March 2013.
What is happening now?
Ahead of this, the major energy suppliers and some of the smaller suppliers have pledged not to collect real-time information, or information about the type of appliances that customers use without their consent. They have also issued a statement of their privacy commitments to customers: http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/publication/finish/37-smart-meters/448-era-privacy-commitments-for-smart-metering.html
However, if you’ve already received a smart meter, you should be aware that many suppliers (though not all) collect half hourly or more detailed data. If this concerns you, we recommend you ask your supplier to opt out of sharing any data that is more detailed than daily. If they don’t allow you to do this, you may wish to switch supplier or decide not to have a smart meter installed until the protections are in place.
If you want to find out more, we suggest that you ask your energy supplier for a copy of their privacy notice to find out more information on their data policies. This should outline what data they are collecting, who they are sharing it with, and how they are using it. It should also highlight any choices you have as a customer, eg opting out of sharing data for marketing purposes, or opting out of sharing any more data than is needed for billing purposes.
As noted, all energy suppliers have to comply with existing Data Protection legislation.
What will change after March 2013
The Government has introduced new consumer protections on data privacy. These will mean that:
- Energy suppliers will be allowed to collect everyone’s energy consumption data once a month
- Energy suppliers will collect your energy consumption data once a day unless you ask them not to. They must also inform you of the purpose for collecting your data. This can’t be for marketing purposes, unless you explicitly give your consent.
- If suppliers want to collect data more than once a day, you will have to explicitly give them your consent (‘opt-in’). You might wish to do this to access a particular energy efficiency product or service, but it will always be your choice. For more information on the benefits of sharing your detailed consumption data, see ‘What are the benefits of me sharing my detailed energy data?’.
- If you are involved in a smart meter trial, your supplier may need to collect your energy consumption data more then once a day for the purposes of the trial. However, they have to give you two weeks notice if they are planning to do this, and you can leave the trial any time if you are not happy with sharing this amount of energy consumption data.
You can change your mind about sharing your data at any time. Opting out of allowing access to your detailed data now does not prevent you from sharing it in the future, and vice versa.
Opting out of sharing detailed data with your energy supplier does not prevent you from accessing your own energy consumption information yourself. You will still be able to see how much gas and electricity you are using, and when you are using it via your smart energy display. This can help you identify where you can make savings on your bill and better manage your energy use.
What are the benefits of me sharing my detailed energy data?
There may also be benefits to you sharing your detailed energy consumption data with your energy supplier or another supplier. For example:
- This information can be used to give you advice on how to save money on your energy bill and reduce your energy or carbon use
- It can give you more control over how much energy you’re using
- It can be used to help you understand how much appliances are costing you and check if things are working properly
- Your energy supplier or a switching site could use the information to calculate if they can offer you a cheaper tariff
- Your energy supplier will need some information on how much energy you use (and when you use it in the case of time of use customers) to accurately bill you
- Tailored energy efficiency advice – based on accurate data specific to your home
Are smart meters secure? Will smart meters make us vulnerable to hackers turning off our gas or electricity supply?
Government has said that security is central to the smart meter rollout. A range of experts – including representatives from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and the data security arm of GCHQ – have been brought together under the Security Technical Expert Group to consider all aspects the system and ensure it is well-protected. Government’s best practice security policy will be used to ensure that there are secure communications throughout the system, and only the right people have access to data and can control our meters. Government has also set out minimum requirements that suppliers will have to meet.
It is suppliers’ responsibility to ensure that smart meters installed now are secure. While we expect robust security to be in place in the future, customers should be aware that some of the smart meters being installed now are being installed before the security standards are set and therefore we cannot be sure that they will meet future standards.
Suppliers have told us that have conducted testing on their smart meters that are currently being fitted using independent experts and that meters are secure. We understand that independent end-to-end testing of the system (ie. testing all the different parts of the smart metering technology such as the meter, coms system and display) is not expected to be fully complete until later this year at the earliest. Alongside testing, Government and suppliers have undertaken – with external experts – a security risk assessment to make sure that controls and security standards are appropriate to the nature of smart meters. This risk assessment will be regularly reviewed.