Smart Grid: USDA Approved $14.3 Million Grant To Further The Technology

Smart grid technology got a big fiscal shot in the arm courtesy of a $14.3 million USDA grant. The controversial smart meters projects around the nation are coming under increased scrutiny by activist groups concerned about invasion of privacy and potential health risks.The United States Department of Agriculture grant was reportedly approved to support the furtherance of smart grid systems in rural America.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is currently seeking public comment on cyber security policies for utility companies that include the high-tech grid system in their service programs. The Obama administration and power companies say smart grid technology makes the system more efficient. Opposition groups feel that smart grids negatively impact privacy, cause fire risks and drive up electricity prices.

Eight states passed laws or regulations making it easier for customers to opt out of smart meter technology. Smart meters and smart grid systems use wireless radios to share data pertaining to electrical usage, and can adjust the room temperature in homes.

One of the smart meters detailed in the NIST report focuses on privacy concerns voiced by residents who feel pressured to allow smart meters into their homes. An excerpt from page 20 or the report reads:

“In the current operation of the electric utilities, data taken from traditional meters consists of basic data usage readings required to create bills. Under the Smart Grid implementation, smart meters will be able to collect other types of data. Some of this additional data may constitute personal information or may be used to determine personal activities. Because of the associated privacy risks, only the minimum amount of data necessary for services, provisioning, and billing should be collected.”

Naperville, Illinois, residents can be counted among those concerned about smart meters. Residents of the town filed a federal lawsuit to stop what they deem an invasion of their privacy by smart grid technology. The Naperville Smart Meter Awareness vs. City of Naperville lawsuit alleges that the city-run utility company failed to consider privacy concerns of consumers when installing the technology.

An excerpt from a report drafted by smart grid opponents in Naperville reads:

  • The potential for stalkers to track their victims and for criminals to determine when homes are unoccupied.
  • The potential for insurance companies to make adjustments by knowing when customers leave appliances on when the home is unoccupied.
  • In the legal realm, the ability by police to know when a defendant was home — without needing a warrant.
  • The ability for landlords to know more about a tenant’s electricity usage.

The Truth About Smart Grids website boils down exactly how smart meter usage could be used as an investigatory and privacy infringing tool:

“As a general rule, the ability to discern occupancy and specific activities from smart meters depends on the time resolution of the energy consumption data collected. Daily readings would generally enable one to determine dwelling occupancy over time. As the data collection intervals are further reduced, a load profile is revealed that allows determination of general movement and activities within a dwelling on an hour by hour basis. With further increased granularity of the data, usage of individual appliances within a dwelling can be identified.”

Cyber security is often one of the most hotly debated topics when smart meters and the smart grid is discussed. Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said that a cyber attack on the power grid is a matter of “if” and not “when.”

What do you think about smart grids and smart meters?

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