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Get your grubby hands off of my HAN

Before we can empower consumers with home power monitoring solutions and other "smart grid" services, we must ask regulators to rule that data gathered from a consumer's utility meter belongs to the consumer. The utility must use this information only for the purpose of charging that consumer for service. If we do not settle this issue quickly and decisively, energy demand management solutions that empower consumers to make their own decisions through variable pricing may get passed up in favor of solutions that allow utilities to automatically control appliances within a consumer's home.
At the Google/GE "Smart Grid" conference held at Google's office in Washington, D.C. on 19 February 2009, Google's Edward Lu, program manager for Advanced Projects, phrased it like this:

One of the things that's needed very soon is clarity on who owns the data [relating to a household's electricity consumption]. We [at Google] have a position that it's a bit like this information, what an individual consumer used, belongs to that consumer. But that is not universally recognized. I think it needs to be. There needs to be some clarity on this going forward.
On March 3rd, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Lu confirmed this position.

One of the perceived leaders in smart grid thinking is the electrical utility Southern California Edison (SCE). In its SmartConnectTM use cases and corresponding US patent application (US 2008/0177678 A1), SCE describes a smart grid in which the electrical utility, not the consumer, monitors individual appliances and turns them on or off as it deems necessary. The patent move was covered in the news back in September.

On page 1, in paragraph 12, the patent reads: "Typically, the advanced utility meter communicates between the utility and multiple appliances and/or other pieces of equipment located at each individual customer location. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, usage data from individual pieces of equipment located at each individual customer location is gathered by the advanced utility meter and transmitted to the utility by the advanced utility meter."

It continues in paragraph 15: "...instructions can be communicated from the utility to the individual customer locations which are used by usage controllers at the individual customer locations to control electrical usage by individual pieces of equipment at the individual customer locations."

While this approach provides the utility with ultimate control over the load on its power grid, it violates the consumer's privacy and cripples market-driven decision making. It puts the utility in a position to sell private consumer information to "partners" with products to market to consumers. Plus, having to go through the utility company to get access to information makes it very difficult for the consumer to selectively share this information with third-party solution providers for the the purposes of, for example, non-intrusive load monitoring (NILM). Innovation would be severely stifled.

Fortunately for consumers, the demand management benefits of smart metering can be obtained without this level of involvement on the part of the utility.

A much better solution moves the load monitoring and management intelligence to a consumer-controlled smart home management device that integrates with the home area network (HAN). This device depends on utility-controlled adjustable pricing to incentivize individual consumers to set their own "smart" devices to turn off or on based on a combination of the instantaneous cost of electricity and the need for the device at a given time. In this consumer-centric, price-driven approach, the utility would not need to care about how much power my sauna, for example, uses, but it could depend on my smart meter's variable pricing capability to incent me to turn my sauna off when electricity is at a premium.

I hope federal regulators read the SCE patent application and thoroughly review multiple approaches to implementing smart grid demand management before agreeing to let utilities take ownership of our information and control of our homes. We can save energy and empower utilities through implementation of time-of-use (TOU) pricing, dynamic pricing, critical peak pricing, or real-time pricing without giving up consumer privacy and control. Let's set a consumer privacy protection policy down as law now so that we can move on with the hard work of implementing smart grid technology at the massive scale that is so urgently needed.


I'm with you! It would prompt me into getting more energy efficient products in my home. I already got an energy efficient Infared Sauna. I'd like to see the prices adjust so I would know when to use it without breaking my pocket book.

I disagree with "having to go through the utility company to get access to information."

Some smart devices comes with its own metering capacity -- they can get usage information without utilities.

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