Smart Grids == Spy Grids?

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2010

We’ve talked about smart grids before – infrastructure networks for basic utilities that incorporates all sorts of networked active monitoring technologies to make our use of energy and water more efficient. Sounds like a win-win situation for consumers and utilities companies alike, doesn’t it?

That altogether depends on how worried you are about extensive data on your lifestyle and consumer choices becoming easily scraped up by your utility suppliers

It knows how often you use your microwave, how many loads of laundry you do every week, what kind of television you own and even how often you shower. It can tell how many people live in your home, what time they go to bed and when the house is empty. All of this information and more is gathered by smart grid meters…

[…]

The information could be used in all kinds of ways, legitimate or not, from cities seeking broad information about how well energy-efficiency programs are working to burglars looking for expensive electronics.

Law enforcement agencies want to use smart meters to spot potential marijuana-growing operations or the location of an underground sweatshop. Companies hope the data will help them target marketing to consumers.

Where there’s data, there’s money… and you can’t always trust organisations who promise never to sell your data to third parties to actually keep their word. AMIRITE, Mr Zuckerberg? Smart grids will be a boon to our increasingly energy-hungry planet, but they’ll also be another battleground for the privacy war that’s slowly lumbering its way into the Now.

But hey, think positive: there’s an upside to the fact that utilities companies monitor their grids. If you get lost in the middle of nowhere without a cellphone, you can just cut down an electricity pylon and wait for the repair crew to arrive[both links via John Robb]


What the hell is a ‘smart grid’, anyway?

Paul Raven @ 03-02-2009

electricity pylonOne of President Obama’s first actions has been to announce his intentions to build a ‘smart grid’ for the US energy infrastructure. WorldChanging explains the concepts behind the buzzphrase, and I’ll paraphrase their five broad categories here:

  • End-user smart metering to use energy more efficiently
  • Systems to integrate electricity generation with electricity storage
  • A communications network that shares data on performance, demand and availability of power
  • An ‘application platform’ that allows third-party utilities to connect the above systems together in useful ways
  • Monitoring and controlling systems that allow the grid to respond to service interruptions in a self-healing manner

In other words, it’s a lot like an internet for power, if you will – not to mention a far cry from the crude lacework of cables and substations we have at the present time. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the benefits of investing the time and money promise to be immense. I wonder what our lot in Whitehall are doing about the UK grid at the moment? [image by C P Storm]

If you’re interested in seeing the sixty odd discreet technologies that break down into the five groups above, the US Department of Energy has made a big old PDF report on smart grids.