California goes first on Smart-Meter adoption

Framework will be model for privacy, security as other states follow suit

California has become the first state to adopt rules for ensuring the privacy and security of sensitive information generated by Smart Meters, interactive meters that are an element of the emerging Smart Grid electric distribution system.

The rules adopted in July by the California Public Utilities Commission are intended to protect customer data while ensuring access by customers and utilities for energy management and conservation services. The rules are consistent with Homeland Security Department principles and were created in cooperation with national efforts to develop Smart Grid standards.

“California is one of the states that is leading in the development and deployment of the Smart Grid, so it is not surprising that they would be one of the first to issue rules,” said George Arnold, coordinator for Smart Grid interoperability at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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There has been “very close coordination” between CPUC and the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel created by NIST, Arnold said.

California regulators said the rules bring the state’s practices into conformity with the best national privacy and security practices.

The Smart Grid has been identified as a priority for the nation’s economic recovery with its promise of creating jobs, contributing to energy independence and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It would use intelligent networking and automation to better control the flow and delivery of electricity to consumers, enabling a two-way flow of electricity and information between the power plant and the appliance, and points in between.

With money for developing and fielding new electric grid technology becoming available with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, industry requires standards for interoperability and security of the system.

Smart grid governance

The Energy Independence and Security Act gave the Energy Department the overall lead for the program and assigned to NIST the job of developing a framework of standards and protocols to ensure interoperability and security. The actual job of regulating and overseeing the electric system lies primarily with states, however.

The Federal Electric Regulatory Commission oversees national bulk power transport, but regulation of power distribution and retail delivery is left to state public utility commissions. Their efforts are coordinated through the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. NIST’s Interoperability Panel has been working with all of these groups in developing standards for the Smart Grid.

CPUC President Michael R. Peevey said in a prepared statement that the California rules should serve as a national model.

The California rules are a first phase of implementing data privacy and security controls. They apply initially to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric Co., and their contractors. In the second phase, CPUC will determine how they should be applied to gas companies and other utilities in the state.

Daily customer access

The covered companies must provide regulators with plans for implementing the rules, which call for providing access to customers of information on electric usage and cost on at least a daily basis, broken into hourly or 15-minute segments. Within six months the covered companies must establish a pilot Smart Meter program for providing this information. They also must provide to as many as 5,000 households home area network technology that would allow customers to receive Smart Meter information in their homes.

The companies must ensure that the data is reasonably accurate and complete, and that it is secured. Breaches involving information of at least 1,000 customers must be reported to the commission, but there is no provision in the rules for notifying customers of breaches.

Security requirements do not specify technology to be used, requiring only “reasonable administrative, technical and physical safeguards.” That is a strength, Arnold said.

The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel is a creating a Catalog of Standards for the emerging Smart Grid architecture. The panel has approved the first six interoperability standards addressing formats for the exchange of information on the grid, standards for charging electric vehicles and requirements for upgrading smart electric meters.

“What we’re doing is coming up with a framework” of standards to be applied as appropriate, Arnold said. The utilities will select the technologies and policies appropriate for them. They also are directed under the new rules to develop common formats for accessing and sharing data. “That points them directly to the work we are doing.”

Texas is another leader in Smart Grid deployment with rule-making for the new technology “well under way,” Arnold said.

As the technology matures, the regulatory framework for it will mature along with it, Arnold said. “As this new technology is deployed and we gain experience with the standards, it will be easier for other states to adopt rules.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Aug 25, 2011

Hey, that's just great! More government regulations dictated by folks who neither understand the high tech industry nor business in general. We just continue to dig ourselfs into a deeper hole by the day...

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 Brett Sloan

Great, now my toaster can tell the world what time I eat breakfast. Not sure how this help energy effocoency when everything will at least have to be on standby power to function on the grid. Now I just unplug the toaster when not in use.

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 Rick

Allowing any user to pump electrons back into the grid (i.e. via solar panel) and API instructions to communicate commands to any other point on the grid opens up millions of points in the grid that can be misused - either accidentally or deliberately. Yep, that neighbors malicious teenager with too much time on his hands and an ethernet port to control the grid will get around to causing Denial Of Service to others. Expect all kinds of mischevious mayhem, not counting future Stuxnet-like destruction. If todays Internet security issues concern you in the least, you ain't seen nuttin yet. The only people rushing into this are the vendors expecting to make a fast buck on hardware swapout. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 RobertWilliams

MUST-SEE 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters:

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