Privacy issues stall smart metering - 28 Aug 2009

Analyst firm Berg Insight (Gothenburg, Sweden) published a report in June 2009 predicting that the installed base of smart electricity meters in Europe will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.2% between 2008 and 2014 to reach 96.3 million. Though this represents a strong uptake of intelligent metering, putting the EU-wide target of 80% of households having smart meters by 2020 within reach, the report notes that some countries are moving ahead slower than others. For example, whilst Sweden has decided to make smart meters mandatory from July 2009, the Netherlands has postponed smart meter rollout following heated debate over the potential risk to privacy posed by remote energy monitoring. The report suggested that the privacy threat from smart meters is grossly exaggerated explaining that some people are opposed because it represents 'a new technology for collecting information in a time when large groups of people are afraid of the consequences of living in an information based society.' That the case for smart metering is getting lost in debates about personal privacy seems to imply that their pros and cons are not being communicated honestly.

The latest initiatives by the British government to cut the country's carbon emissions have every home in Britain with a smart meter by 2020. The theory goes that by encouraging the UK's 26 million households to track how much gas and electricity they use, more people will begin actively minimising their energy usage. However, the biggest winners from this initiative could be the energy companies, who are likely to save money by reading meters electronically, without having personnel out knocking on doors. This initiative could cost between £7 billion and £9 billion, or £269 to £346 per household, and it is not yet clear who will pay, if it is the consumer, any cost-savings per year are likely to be minimal. In the short term portable energy monitors that provide consumers with an understanding of the energy use of individual appliances within the home may be more worthwhile. These have been given out for free in the UK, though customers generally must meet a set of criteria first.

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