Smart Meter Data: Access and Privacy Rights
What about existing privacy regulations?
In some instances, it has been stated there is no need to provide new regulations for smart meter data specifically. 46 state governments have an existing law in place that requires businesses to have a method of locating and protecting their own data in general. Current privacy laws regarding data security are enough to include smart meter data as well, proponents say, and no new laws are necessary. According to this line of thought, new regulations would just be reinventing the wheel. But are these laws regulating the businesses or utility companies that actually store this data?
Who owns the data?
Who owns the usage data recorded by a smart meter? If not the end user (the customer), then does the client even have a right to access the data, in real time, the same way the power company bills for it?
It does seem that legal precedence suggests that the utility facilities own the data, but policies are being pushed to define customer rights in this manner. Both California and Texas already took the extra step to protect smart meter data and established consumer privacy rights on their end. Even though the utility companies are in control of the data, at least these states have set up policies to protect it.
Texas passed a law that would allow only customers to have access and own data from Texas smart meters which are delivered to them by their utility provider. This is under Texas Utilities Code 39.107(b).
Should consumers worry about intrusive marketing?
What if the utility company decides to sell access to detailed billing records to marketers? For example, if the marketing department of a pharmaceutical organization can observe what residences get up late at night due to insomnia and by gauging that by their use of electricity during that time of the evening, could you imagine the inexpensive, untapped advertising opportunity to promote their sleep aids? Or perhaps appliance companies will notice that you’re using a certain appliance more often than usual, and will use that data to send you advertisements on an energy saving appliance of their own? (Perhaps the ads will even appear in the monthly utility bill.)
This seems to be akin to one’s address being sold to companies and creditors so they can solicit pre-approved credit card offers. Do we need any more junk mail?
Texas Smart Meter Web Portal
As previously mentioned, the State of Texas has given customers the rights to the real-time data from their smart meters online. This is known as the "Smart Meter Texas Web Portal."
After about a two-month period after installation and testing of a residential smart meter, Texas customers are able to access their electrical usage history in 13-month, 30-day, or 24-hour snapshots as well as in 15 minutes intervals throughout the day. This way, someone can say to themselves, "Holy cow, I left my outdoor spotlight on overnight last night!" This makes a user more conscious of what appliances they're using in order to better manage their appliances.
That being said, there are wheels in motion with this smart electric meter web interface/website to allow access to customer usage information by retail electric providers which thus can offer up energy analysis utilities, time of use rates, and pre-paid services. This portal can also allow these retail electric providers to gain access to home area network devices that can tap into the smart meters, which can then be used by consumers to better manage their appliance usage by letting them remotely gain access to future connected electric appliances, thermostats, and other smart electric devices that are currently in development among manufacturers.
Google has an API for such access as well. The "Google Powermeter" is a portal itself that allows users to gain access to their usage data from any participating utility company.