Six Lines

Intro to Smart Grid Privacy

Posted by Aaron Massey on 07 Oct 2010.

The smart grid concept basically revolves around replacing existing power meters with much more sensitive “smarter” power meters that are able to provide much more information to the power company about power use. This can save money, potentially millions or billions if scaled widely, because it allows the power company to better manage their resources, but it also has implications for the privacy of households on the smart grid.

You may have heard about smart grid privacy, but not taken the time to read much about it. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to read this short introduction from IEEE Spectrum:

It all sounds less paranoid when you consider that each appliance—the refrigerator, kettle, toaster, washing machine—has its own energy fingerprint, or ”appliance load signature,” that a smart meter can read. Anyone who gets hold of this data gets a glimpse of exactly what appliances you use and how often you use them.

The article describes two potential solutions: anonymization and use of batteries to mask signals. I’m not convinced either of these will work. Truly anonymizing data may be impossible. Also, using batteries to mask signals may defeat the purpose of installing a “smarter” meter in the first place.

The article also includes a nice chart from a NIST report on smart grid privacy about all the ways people are concerned that smart meters may violate their privacy.