On May 6, the CPUC issued a proposed decision adopting rules to protect the privacy and security of the electricity usage data from smart meters. Its but one piece of the broader smart grid rulemaking taking place at the CPUC.
This is an important discussion—“we” (as in the energy-using public) want our privacy protected, but also want all the cool gizmos and services that the smart grid is supposed to provide us. Seriously, I wanted the app for my phone that allows me to remotely power down my entire home except for the refrigerator like yesterday—so I am very happy that the companies that are going to make apps like that will have access to the data they need to be able to create such a service.
And of course, the more companies that have access to this data, the more competition we can expect. More competition = better products at lower cost. Or so we hope. The good news is that under the proposed decision, utilities must offer residential customers with pricing, usage and cost data. Specifically, the utilities must offer “bill-to-date, bill forecast data, projected month-end tiered rate, a rate calculator, and notifications to customers as they cross rate tiers.” What we do with that data is our own decision.
In addition, the utilities must provide third parties, with customer authorization, with usage and billing information after the utility processes the data and ensures that the privacy of customers is protected consistent with specific rules and policies. Those companies can then design and offer products to the public based on the data that they have collected. The utilities will have to design tariffs for this purpose within 6 months of the decision, so those companies that might seek this information is going to want to pay close attention to any such advice letter—its one thing for the CPUC to make rules, its another thing to see how the utilities decide to implement their interpretation of those rules.
The ins and outs of the data privacy rules are outlined in the 100-page decision and the Future of Privacy Forum has also put together an in-depth summary of the specific provisions, but the guiding principles are simple: 1) the customer gets his or her own data and can decide what he or she wants to do with it; and 2) others get access to “scrubbed” data (aka data that has no specific customer information) for their use in developing products to sell to the public.
Still, those who want to get into energy data management or create data energy-based products should be wary that both of these guiding principles are actually implemented by either offering comments to the proposed decision (comments are due June 6) or paying close attention when the utilities eventually file their tariffs to implement these rules.
Others like Gary Hunt, President of Scalable Growth Strategy Advisors pose the question whether these rules are tough enough for data privacy advocates, but given that the decision has has the support of such staunch privacy advocates as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and expressly embraces Fair Information Practice principles, I think the real question is whether those who want as much data as possible believe that they will get enough data for their business needs.