Value your privacy? You may want to refuse a smart meter…

Editor’s note:  The article below is a guest contribution to www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz sent in by Andrew from Nelson.  If you would like to contribute an article or share a personal experience related to a smart meter. you can contact us via this link

 

Information risk

There’s been a lot of concern about these proposed ‘smart meters’ and the microwave radiation they produce. It’s not been proven dangerous but not proven entirely safe either.

[Ed note:  There is published research on adverse health effects reported following smart meter installations; please see this link for more information: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/uncategorized/peer-reviewed-journal-publishes-article-on-smart-meter-health-effects/ ]

The only certain thing about it is that the risk – whatever it may be – is to customers, for the benefit of power companies, who are promoting the things.

There is another undeniable risk. These meters collect and send away a disturbing amount of information about every household’s habits. A normal meter adds up the total you use and the reader comes once every two months. There’s not much you can find out about a customer from that, except the intended thing, namely what their bill should be.

But these smart meters measure how much your family uses every half hour of every day, and hand it to your power company, via the network company. This is called ‘time of use metering’. And it’s completely new for household users. A few years ago these meters measured the power you use each half-hour down to the nearest 1/000th of a unit. To put this in perspective, if you get up at night, turn on one lightbulb and are not back in bed within 36 seconds, it’s got you logged. Electronics will only have got more powerful since then.

Whether your particular meter has a radio modem or the meter reader comes at the end of the month with a ‘smart’ reader and hooks it onto your ‘smart’ meter so it can suck out the whole month’s half-hourly readings, the data collected is much the same.

When the network company came to promote ‘smart’ meters they were asked “Who owns the information you intend to collect, what will it be used for and who might it be handed on to?” The answer was “That’s a good question. You’d better consult your power company’s terms and conditions.” So here’s a selection from various power companies’ terms and conditions. Look it up if you don’t believe it!

“We may, at any time, replace the meter on your premises with a smart meter or install a remote meter reading device on your existing meter.

“You agree that we own all metering data and any other data collected by the meter.

“We will use any personal information collected …for the purposes of…
* conducting data analysis to identify particular products and services that may be of interest to you;
* to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law by any public sector agency, including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of offences

Welcome to 1984! Of course nobody’s going to look through your time-of-use power bill to see what they can sell you. But they will use specialist companies who program computers to do exactly that – to the whole customer base. It’s called ‘data mining’ and it’s routine.

Time of use data can already suggest when you’re on holiday, whether there are school kids in the house, when you get up and go to bed, how much TV you watch, whether you cook at home or buy fast food, and what you do at the weekend. Think about it a bit and you will see how. And it’s only going to get worse as our houses fill up with ‘smart’ appliances that talk to each other.

What about the security of your data? It’s probably protected by ‘128 bit encryption’ which nobody hacks by brute force, and your power company will hold it in accordance with the Privacy Act. Sounds reassuring. Except accidents with huge amounts of people’s data are all too often in the news. And there’s always a criminal element lurking. It could be high-tech hacking but it doesn’t have to be. Bribery and blackmail work just as well in ‘big data’ as anywhere. Your time-of-use data could slip through the internet unseen, and it would be a godsend to burglars.

It’s worth stating the blindingly obvious: the purpose of having an electricity meter is to calculate our bill, not to target advertising at ourselves. And the last thing we need is to have our metering data taken from us, analysed, and turned back on us insidiously to make us dissatisfied with what we have so that we buy more stuff.

In Silicon Valley they say ‘SMART’ stands for ‘surveillance marketed as revolutionary technology’, and they have a point. Once again, the only certain thing is that the risk – whatever it may be – is to customers, for the benefit of power companies, who are promoting the scheme.

In the end, what is in it for us customers to have a ‘smart meter’ in our house? We’ve used electricity and paid our bills according to normal meters since forever, and it works. If you have a huge solar panel that generates for the grid, you may need a high-tech meter. But for the rest of us – and that’s nearly everybody – the best way to know our time of use data is not being abused is not to create it in the first place.

Just tell your power company that you do not consent to having any kind of ‘time-of-use’ meter or ‘smart’ meter. If necessary, change to a company that doesn’t insist on one. They’ll get the message pretty quickly.

 

Value your privacy?  You may want to refuse a smart meter…

Smart meters are NOT compulsory in NZ and many NZers are refusing smart meters- and not just because of the privacy risks.  You can find a good summary of some of the other reasons that people are refusing smart meters at this link.

Please note that if you would like to receive email updates on the smart meter issue for NZ, you can sign up to the free email list at www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz

Electricity company employee insists smart meters have benefits for consumers

As regular visitors to www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz may have noticed, there are no comments at the end of posts.  This is due to lack of time to moderate comments.  (The site has a Contact Form so that people who need help with smart meter related problems can get assistance.)

I did receive an interesting comment from Graeme Purches, Trust Power’s community relations manager in response to the post at this link: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/otago-daily-times-reports-no-emissions-from-smart-meters-according-to-electricity-company-representative/

The comment expressed disappointment that  www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz  was purportedly providing inaccurate information.  (I have sent an email to Mr Purches and invited him to point out any factual inaccuracies on the website because I do strive for accuracy when compiling site content.) The comment also expressed frustration that the post mentioned the advantages that smart meters offer to the electricity without mentioning that, in Graeme Purches’ opinion, smart meters also offer advantages to consumers.

Quoting from the post, the advantages to the electricity industry from smart meters that I mentioned were the following;

…allowing electricity retailers or lines companies to take control of appliances in a home via a smart meter and also making it possible for companies to charge more for electricity at different times of the day…great for profits…not great for consumers…please see these links for details: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/could-a-smart-meter-mean-you-are-miserably-cold-during-winter/ and http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/what-is-time-of-use-tou-pricing-and-how-could-it-affect-you/

In fairness to Mr Purches, the advantages to consumers from smart meters (that he included in his comment) are the following:

“Why was there no mention of the fact that Advanced meters also allow electricity companies to sell power at lower prices at times of the day or during periods when electricity prices are lower than average? No advantages for consumers? No meter readers calling, more accurate bills, accurate information about their electricity use which enables them to plan better and make savings…. the list of advantages for consumers goes on.”

Mr Purches’ comments are interesting because at no time in the post in question did I state that there were no advantages to consumers from smart meters.  I simply stated some key reasons (in my opinion) why the electricity industry is so keen on installing smart meters, that is the ability to charge more for electricity at different times of the day and to be able to control customers’ appliances. (Lowering labour costs by being able to lay-off meter readers is another advantage for the industry.)

It is also my belief that the electricity industry would not be spending the very large amounts of money that it is spending on installing smart meters if it did not expect to benefit financially from this expenditure.

Certainly, smart (or “advanced”) as Mr Purches terms them, meters, allow companies to charge less for electricity at some “times of the day” (or when “electricity prices are lower than average”, as he states.)

However, overseas the “Time of Use” (ToU) pricing plans made possible by smart meters can mean that people may pay twice as much for electricity at peak times than they do at times of lower demand. I see this as an advantage for the electricity industry, not ordinary households. (For example, see http://www.hydroone.com/TOU/Pages/Default.aspx)

While theoretically, it is possible to use ToU pricing to save money (for example by doing some electricity-hungry tasks at off-peak periods) this will not work for many people who are at work during the day and need to sleep at night.  So-called “smart” appliances that could be programmed to do tasks at off-peak times (and/or can be controlled by a “smart” meter) may be much too expensive for low income households, especially working families who have the most to lose from ToU pricing.

“Smart” appliances also add to the microwave radiation level in the home environment.  (For this reason, they are not a smart choice, in my opinion.)

Graeme Purches seems to think that not having a meter reader visit your home is an advantage.

Personally, I would much rather a meter reader have a job than have a smart meter blasting out pulses of microwave radiation to send information about electricity use.  I know that many other New Zealanders feel the same way.

And then there are the potential health effects from smart meters to consider.  The electricity industry would like you to believe that there are no health risks from smart meters. (You can read about potential health issues with smart meters at this link: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/health-issues/ )

It’s quite clear to me that Mr Purches and I do have quite different perspectives on the smart meter issue.

He’s paid to promote them.

I (like many other public spirited people) volunteer my time to help New Zealanders understand the potential risks to their health, finances and privacy  posed by this new (and unnecessary) technology.

 

NB:  If you are interested in the smart meter issue, please sign up to the email newsletter on www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz