Smart meters and your privacy

By Posted by Mora Scott

You may have heard or read that the Provincial Government recently reiterated its commitment to install smart meters and modernize our current electric grid through the Clean Energy Act. But, what does this mean exactly?

It means that BC Hydro will be installing new digital meters that support two-way communications capability to approximately 1.8 million customers throughout the province, delivering significant customer benefits, while helping to keep BC Hydro's rates amongst the lowest in North America.

Smart meters collect consumption data more frequently than mechanical meters, providing you with more information about your electricity consumption, and providing BC Hydro with more visibility over the grid. More information about the overall 'health' of our system will help BC Hydro operate more efficiently, improving reliability, reducing outage restoration time, minimizing line losses and eliminating theft.

In addition, you can choose to have information provided to you in near-real time, via an in-home display or next day to a secure web portal, helping you to manage your electricity consumption more efficiently.

Although smart meters may influence the amount of data BC Hydro collects, our privacy principle will remain the same – encrypted user data will remain between BC Hydro and our customers. We will be collecting the same consumption information we always have, only more frequently.

BC Hydro has not, and will not, deploy anything on the system until we are fully confident issues of privacy and security are properly addressed. BC Hydro has been tracking electricity consumption for many years through a safe, secure and regulated process. Customer privacy, safety and security have always been our top priorities.

So how can BC Hydro protect your personal information from hackers, thieves and marketers interested in the new information this technology will provide? Calling privacy 'a crucial element of the Smart Grid', Ontario's Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, says, "The best response is to ensure that privacy is proactively embedded into the design of the Smart Grid, from end to end."

Because we have yet to deploy any technology, BC Hydro has an advantage in designing our Smart Grid framework. BC Hydro is "designing privacy" into the system – much the same as we design safety into all of our capital projects. By "designing privacy" into our system now, privacy will not be an afterthought, but rather, a primary element of our design.

Our implementation will include completing Privacy Impact Assessments for each technology component that we will be implementing to ensure that we comply with B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. We will also conduct independent privacy and security penetration tests prior to the rollout of smart meters.

The impact the internet had on our lives is often compared to the impact smart meters, and eventually the Smart Grid, will have on our lives. One lesson we can learn from the Internet's implementation is that it is more effective and less expensive to build in privacy and security protections at the start. And that is exactly what we intend to do.

BC Hydro will not endorse any products that do not meet our standards for customer privacy and security. We will work closely with product providers to ensure your privacy needs can be met with their products.

BC Hydro has been participating on the Open Smart Grid and AMI Security task forces for a number of years now to understand the industry-wide recommendations for security and privacy and ensure BC Hydro implements a system that exceeds those recommendations. Our customers trust us to protect their privacy and security, and we recognize and take that responsibility very seriously.

For more information, see our Smart Metering & Smart Grid Programs section.

Mora Scott is a communications coordinator with BC Hydro's Smart Metering and Smart Grid Programs.