By Maria Cugnetto

Revenue risk with respect to interval meter data in an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) environment, in particular, IT security and risks, and AMI issues and challenges, was the topic of the Utility Metering Association’s latest annual seminar in Sydney, Australia on 20 October 2009. With delegates from various regions including Singapore, New Zealand, the United States and France, key issues that the discussion focused on were:

  • Privacy 
  • Data ownership 
  • Data security 
  • Meter functionality 
  • Consumer benefits 
  • Information from data 
  • Customer culture in terms of wanting or needing to change and the use of in-house displays for customers 
  • Pricing sensitivity and the tariffs to be introduced for home area networks and smart meters installed 
  • Consumers and raw meter data 
  • Discretionary versus non-discretionary load control 
  • Reconciliation between meter and billing systems 
  • Format of data 
  • Social policy.

The benefits accruing to utilities that use smart meters to introduce new technologies to consumers will be a key feature for the industry. On the other hand, the utilisation of smart meters as technology enablers is an important message for consumers to understand. With solar power and distributed generation being key climate change initiatives, it is important that consumers appreciate the value of these devices. What programmes will be introduced to deliver this? Will different programmes be geared to different sectors of the community? And is data security a universal issue or one directed to certain groups in the community?

Ownership of data flows on from this: Do consumers own the data? Do utilities own the data? Is the data secure? How can consumers be reassured that the data is secure when hacking is prevalent in our society? Will education and information to consumers satisfy their concerns? This area of ownership posed more questions than answers. It is a complex issue and one that ties in with social policy. Can legislation be the answer?

While the information from the meter data may be valuable to techno savvy consumers eager to download their consumption data and graph their profiles to better understand their usage, non techno savvy consumers may never want the option of accessing their consumption data and may feel that they are paying for services that are not important or necessary to them. This raised questions regarding how the services to consumers will be packaged. How will home area networks be introduced to consumers with respect to security and IT risks? Will these be mandated or will they be based on consumer choice?

The discussion on privacy considered the possibility of hacking associated with remote communication mediums in cases where consumer data is remotely collected and then subject to data validation. Consumers who do not use internet transactions and web banking as part of their daily lives may object to the way the electricity consumption is managed with smart meters. For example, records of consumer consumption patterns may fall into the wrong hands, and some consumers may even not want a smart meter installed, thereby alleviating the possibility of their consumption pattern becoming public domain and their usage patterns attracting burglars to their property at times of minimum consumption.

The discussions on data format came to one conclusion – that a standardised format is required. This highlighted other issues and the debate indicated there could potentially be security risks, especially in terms of frequent transfer of large datasets. However, it was also acknowledged that encryption for data transmission would help to minimise this risk.

There are benefits provided by the implementation of smart meters and it is important to educate consumers as to what those benefits are. In particular, consumers need to understand the role of smart meters and the impact they can have on their consumption patterns. If consumers choose to take notice of energy price signals, they may make lifestyle changes leading to a reduction of their energy bills. However, the way in which new tariffs are imposed on residential consumers is paramount because it will directly affect how consumers react in taking advantage of periods where energy savings can be made.