© Benjamin Sterbenz

Energy-Evolution
03/27/2012

Smart Electric Meters as Spies

In Austria intelligent electric meters are to be obligatory by 2018. The introduction of the smart meters is leading to massive criticism among consumer and data protection specialists.

von Barbara Wimmer

Actually the new intelligent electric meters, „smart meters”, as they are called in technical terminology, should help to save energy. At least this was the intention of the EU, as they have introduced a new guideline. The actual potential savings as studies show are between 9 and 42 Euros per year for an average household.

Currently Austria is working on implementation of the guidelines. The Ministry of Economics has worked on a regulation draft which states that by 2018, 95 percent of all households should be furnished with the new electric meters by obligation. At the moment the regulation is in a phase of final evaluation, the Ministry of Economics confirms. These goals are much more ambitious than the EU prescribes – and they are not gaining much recognition among consumer and data protection specialists.

The Employees Chamber (der Arbeiterkammer), the Medical Association and the Tenants’ Association are all criticising the plans. These associations have recently started a petition against the obligatory introduction of the “smart meters”. Online more than 3,100 signatures have been collected to date. “Economic interests must not come before privacy protection and data security”, Naja Shah the national Head of the Tenants’ Association, told futurezone.

Data Security
The new electric meters are even spies in your own household. You can use them to find out if somebody lives alone, uses an oven or a microwave or which TV channel is usually watched in the evening. This is what a survey of the laboratory for IT security of FH Münster shows and refers to fifteen minute intervals of data storage. These parameters are allowed to be reported in Austria, a regulator of E Control says.
“The number of devices used in a household at the same time is limited. Therefore, it is possible to identify devices by their real load profile and for example, separate a refrigerator from a washing machine”, data security expert Andreas Krisch says. “In total you could get very detailed information about someone’s habits, but this is exactly what people dislike” says Nadja Shah from the Tenants’ Association.

Tariff Jungle
Additionally, the Employees Chamber (der Arbeiterkammer) warns of an „imminent tariff jungle”. Energy providers could offer different tariffs. „From the early days of expansion of telecom providers we saw that it came to strong differences in products. It was not longer possible to compare prices.”

Decentralised Energy Supply
„A change is essential to be able to feed power from decentralised sources like the wind or the sun into the power supply system in the future”, says Klaus Bernhardt from the Association of the Electrical Industry (FEEI). “Clients suddenly produce their own electricity and we have to include that energy into the grid. One of the things a “smart meter” should offer in the future is simply to get information about the current net condition”, Bernhardt explains.

What we can expect from the new models
For more than a hundred years mechanical „Ferraris“ devices  have been the most common electric meters in Austria. The average period of operation is 75 years. Now they should be replaced through digital electric meters, the so called “smart meters”. These machines detect energy consumption over short-time intervals.

Consumption The annual metering of energy consumption will end due to that reason. It will be done by remote transmission. The client will also benefit from that change. It is easier to keep energy consumption under control.