The SmartMeter backfiring privacy issue

The promise was to help you control your electricity bill by becoming more aware of your energy use. The downside is that with the data gathered, other people and businesses can also become more aware of your habits, like when you go to work, go on vacation, etc. Is the potential energy savings worth the invasion of privacy trade-off? I sure don’t think so. I really don’t want PG&E or anyone else for that matter knowing how I live my life inside my own home.

To add insult to injury, the Public Utility Commission just granted PG&E a rate hike to pay for lost profits due to these devices that no consumers asked for. In my own conversion experience, PG&E basically said “our way or the highway” – I didn’t have a choice. Now I have a ZigBee WiFi capable datalogger on the side of my house, tracking my family’s habits. Now the EFF is getting involved for privacy protection. Fortunately, the PUC has now ordered PG&E to provide an opt-out plan. With privacy issues rising, there may be more takers now.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

California Proposes Strong Privacy Protections for “Smart Meters”

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has released a proposal for strong privacy protections for “smart meter” data, closely following the recommendations from EFF and the Center for Democracy and Technology. If adopted and finalized, the plan could become a model for how to protect sensitive consumer information while providing new ways to save energy.

California’s PG&E is currently in the process of installing “smart meters” that will collect detailed data of energy use —750 to 3000 data points per month per household—for every energy customer in the state. These meters are aimed at helping consumers monitor and control their energy usage, but the information that is collected can reveal much more about a household’s daily activities: when people wake up, when they come home, when they go on vacation, and maybe even when they take a hot bath.

Many third parties will want access to this sensitive information, and the California PUC has recommended strong protections for the transfer of the data to others. This should help prevent the data’s misuse, hopefully blocking new intrusions into our home and private life. We hope the California PUC goes on to adopt its proposal, creating a blueprint for energy data and privacy protection that can be used across the country.

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172 thoughts on “The SmartMeter backfiring privacy issue

  1. Not to mention the ultimate goal: to turn off you appliances whenever they want to reduce energy consumption!

    They are too wrapped up in green energy to build the needed capacity to not have to do this.

  2. This lunatic scheme is a data protection nightmare.

    It is also part of the control grid that they are trying to implement.

    One day they may ration electricity and use these meters to implement the rationing plan.

  3. Not to mention the ultimate goal: to turn off you appliances whenever they want to reduce energy consumption!

    They are too wrapped up in green energy to build the needed capacity to not have to do this.

    Of course the rich will avoid this by having local battery backup for the outages – just like they do in the third world! (Thanks Envoro twits!)

    Thanks
    JK

  4. These meters are aimed at helping consumers monitor and control their energy usage…

    Not at all. They are to allow the state to control your energy usage. Want to wash your clothes before 9 pm? Sorry, that circuit only will be allowed power from 9pm to 6am. Smart meters are a watermelon control-freaks dream.

  5. As we have seen, it is impossible for corporations to protect our data. My data has been given to the wrong party by my Bank, my employer has exposed my personal information by accident, and the “cloud” has turned out to be just a huge shopping mall for hackers. The smart meters just cost us more money and exposure to government and other idiots. What we need is to drill for more oil, build nuclear plants, and persue other cost effective energy sources. If we have energy, we don’t need no stinkin’ smart meter.

  6. If “these meters are aimed at helping consumers monitor and control their energy usage” then why not have local access only? If the customer chooses to share the data then that’s fine – if not, no problem.

  7. A simple alternative would be to have an electronic meter with a simple digital readout of kilowatt hours and a three digit hash code but no radio. The customer could simply call in the energy and hash numbers to a pge computer over the phone or internet. The three digit hash would prevent made up or erroneous meter readings and would not contain enough data capacity to leak any significant private info. Customers who are frequently late in calling in their meter reading could be forced to switch to a meter with a radio or pay a fee for human reader visits. This system would be nearly as cheap as the new ones with radios.

  8. The promise was to help you control your electricity bill by becoming more aware of your energy use. The downside is that with the data gathered, other people and businesses can also become more aware of your habits

    There are bigger problems. It’s not just whether you can control your electricity but also whether anyone else can, and what they might do with any data gathered.

    Silver Spring has a paper about their system security which mentions it’s designed to be secure, but not necessarily secure from the outset. There’s already an open source tool kit designed to work with the ZigBee chipset and could be used to exploit it. That’s been available for some time now but I don’t know if it’s actively being attacked yet. If it is, upgrades may be needed sooner than anticipated and if the comms elements are embedded, may require meter replacements to avoid ‘smart’ meters becoming rather dumb meters.

  9. Sorry if this is a dumb question from a foreigner. But if the supposed benefit is that consumers can get to see and analyze their power usage over time, why does this info need to be sent to a central authority? Virtually every home has a reasonably good wireless enabled computer, smart phone or other number crunching device that could link to a meter… so why are the smart meters not producing secure information *only* for those who are using them???

    Why does this central authority need any more info than load demands?

  10. Time-of-Use pricing/metering is just around the corner too, with these meters in place …

    Oh joy; there goes the benefit of having an instant hot-water heater …

    .

  11. The UK are going to ‘benefit’ from this type of meter as well but you can bet your life that we won’t be offered any kind of privacy protection. What’s more I expect that they’ll be used to control the rolling brown-outs which we’ll probably face once the government shuts all the coal fire power stations to comply with the an insane EU directive on power station emissions.

  12. has recommended strong protections for the transfer of the data to others
    Yes, and 100 million Sony users thought their data was safe too!
    These “green” meters are a dangerous slippery slope that I shall stay off for as long as possible.

  13. Anthony, smart metering is just about monitoring your usage, and cost saving, it’s also an opportunity to ration energy which not doubt has Monbiot in the UK salivating. Imagine, if the greens persuade the government to allow a fixed amount of energy per person, and they will if they can, the energy companies can monitor your usage and when you exceed your allowance, no matter how it’s set, can cut off your energy. It’s not just its privacy implications, there are tyranny implications while we have environmentalists around.

  14. They may bend to the public’s insistence for privacy considerations now, but rest assured, this train will keep running.

    The ultimate goal is higher rates for less usage. Who wouldn’t want to use less energy and save money? But when usage “drops,” rates will increase in the name of funding “green energy.”

    California, Spain, Germany, and the Dutch know this all too well.

  15. Promises of privacy protection and secure data are continually found to be hollow.

    How many times have we heard that “your privacy is important to us, and we don’t supply this data to third parties…blah, blah, blah…” Then, a year later, a little news blurb about how someone hacked into the system and stole the data. Or how the data was stored on a 3rd party server, and that 3rd party sold the data…

    “The dastardly 3rd party sold the data..not us. We’re innocent. We didn’t think they’d do it. This is horrible, and we will take measures to insure this won’t happen again. ”
    That’s what they’ll tell us, but it’s too late. The deed is done.

    If the entire premise of smart meters was to make us more efficient, and use less energy, then why raise the rates? Why not save the time and expense of the smart meter system and …just raise the rates? Exact same result.

    This ranks with putting a GPS device on your car that not only logs how many miles you drive, how fast you drive each of those miles, but upon which road you travel upon…The goal being to tax you on miles driven, tax you on how fast you drive, and tax you based on which roads you’re driving on.

    Just like a smart meter, and every bit as invasive of privacy.

  16. I have my own “smart meter” CALLED MY FINGER…….TURN OFF LIGHT-SAVE MONEY????Wounder if I can get a government grant to study this concept?

  17. Not to mention that, here in Texas, the smart meters were touted as a way to ‘reduce metering costs’ when in reality it just made it easier for the electric company to bill me. My ‘meter reading fee’ stayed the same, but the electric company can rid itself of a few meter readers since that job is considerably easier.

    As far as I know, there is now way yet for the power company to kill or even control individual electrical circuits in your household with just a ‘smart’ meter. However, the ultimate goal will be to raise rates for larger utility users.

  18. Although I do like the idea of using the SmartMeter against the control-freak whackjobs. Some kindly hacker with a bit of time could quietly and slowly reduce everyone’s “consumption” by corrupting the readings down slightly over time. A bit like the bank or trader who makes money on the Nth decimal place in exchange rates. The power companies wouldn’t even notice it most likely.

  19. I had one of these damn things installed on my house from SDG&E not too long ago.

    I can see these things being used some day to control how much energy we use.

  20. We had them installed in Melbourne over the last few years. Their primary purpose is to allow the remote shutdown of households power. Here in Victoria, our population has doubled, while left and right governments have not built one new power station (or dam) for decades. And they dont plan on building any. The governments know (and I believe they planned this), that in a few years time, peak demand during summer will greatly outstrip supply. It already happens in Melbourne on the 2 or 3 very hottest days of the years, where there are power shortages and entire suburbs are shut down to stop the whole grid going down.

    Smart meters will allow the government to remotely shut power to every 4th or 5th (eg) house for 1 or 2 hours at a time, and then rorate through the other houses. The effect is that they reduce (force) down demand by enough to keep the system overloading.

    Currently, entire suburbs are shut down for the whole day via manual tripping of massive breakers. This way, they will be able to cut power to everyone for a short period in alternating cycles, so that the effects are minimal (eg your fridge wont go off if it`s off for one hour once or twice a day)

    This is the real purpose of Smart Meters – to manage our transition back to 2nd world living standards.

  21. How about covering the thing with aluminum foil to block the RF signal?

  22. It seems that when science or industry comes up with something new like the “green windmill” or the smart meter, government has a way to buy into them and it doesn’t matter what the cost or implications are , they just bound ahead.

  23. If they implement this around here I may have to get a large battery and inverter and charge it during low rate hours and use it rather than the mains during the high rate hours. That would really confuse them I am sure. (Of course it could also be cost prohibitive…those big battery arrays are pricey)

  24. “Many third parties will want access to this sensitive information, and the California PUC has recommended strong protections for the transfer of the data to others.”

    One word: wikileaks!!!!

    “This should help prevent the data’s misuse, hopefully blocking new intrusions into our home and private life”

    Hopefully?????? They HOPE they can prevent misuse????

  25. @johnboy

    It has been my observation that if you write it up correctly you could probably get a very large grant to study that. The grant process is a strange beast.

  26. I rather generate my own electricity with a propane powered generator in my basement than having this kind of equipment installed in my house.

    Freedom comes with a price right?

  27. If CA continues to play this estranged role, I suggest that they secede from the Union. They can then march to their own tune to their heart’s content. At the very least, the rest of us will be saving some money, seeing as how we no longer will be responsible for Federal California Madness subsidies.

  28. It all goes back to bad or the lack of representation that wants to control rather than represent.

  29. Look, there’s nothing wrong with this technology given two things:

    The data is encrypted/secure and anonymized and it’s voluntary.

    Oh, wait, they even failed to do that.

  30. You are all way ahead of us here in my part of Australia.
    We have a shiny new smart meter for our home.
    It is programmed to charge me a very large amount per KWH at those times when I need to use electricity.
    When its very cheap, its late at night, I am asleep and all the electrical devices are off.

    Great stuff.
    My electricity bill is soaring and soaring.
    I do so love to be paying more and more each quarter,
    for the same quantity of electricity.
    Privacy, be dammed, it’s my money they’re after.

  31. And the government subsidizes G.E. to build these smart meters with stimulus funds! Not bad for a company that earned billions of dollars and paid no tax to the government on their earnings. All on the up and up of course, Jeff Immelt has no ties to the current administration in the White House.
    /dripping sarc.

  32. You wait until you are compulsorality “chipped”, with a tracking device embedded somewhere in your body. Not only will your every thought, word, movement, intake and output be monitored, but there will also be access via a “Little Red Button” (remember? Richard Curtis does…)) to your ultimate demise, messy or otherwise, thus removing the need for courts, trials or imprisonment, and the expenses thereby incurred.

    There is a healthy future in store for prospective elcetro-surgeons who would be willing to risk removing or reprogramming these devices to the benefit of the user/victim (for a modest fee, of course…)

    Are we scared? We should be…

  33. re Owen

    It has been my observation that if you write it up correctly you could probably get a very large grant to study that. The grant process is a strange beast.

    Indeed it is. The US DHS has been funding research into smart meter and smart grid security. $18m or more I think at the last count. Problem is 10m+ smart meters have already been fitted in the US often with little effective security. If those need replacing to meet new security standards, guess who’ll end up footing the bill? All because utilities want to use ‘smart’ metering to create new tariffs and charge consumers more.

  34. well, we really are living Atlas Shrugged.
    i’m just waiting to hear obama say the word ‘hoarding’.
    that’s the word that comes out when there’s nothing left for the government to steal but food.
    poor california… it’s just… pelosic…

  35. Further to the comments on the rationing issue, one of the ‘benefits’ mooted is that properties with high energy use or less energy efficient use can be targetted for the first switch off.

  36. Something I found out recently is that police do not need any kind of warrant or subpoena to examine your electric bills — they just order the utility to provide it. Even where the bill just contains total usage, the cops use this to look for activities like marijuana growing. So with greatly increased detail as to your patterns of usage, they will have that much more access to your life.

  37. Every so often Westar sends out a flier pushing the smart meter, though I haven’t received one in quite some time. Anyway, every time I received one I just threw it in the trash since I was concerned that the ink came off if I used it for other purposes. It’ll have to be forced upon me before I ever accept this garbage.

    And as far as the actual article goes, no big surprise. Whenever some leftist idea is proposed, and followed, soon the “side-effects” become apparent and the backlash can be harsh. Good luck to those who have no choice right now on regaining a little of your freedom back.

  38. Indeed the tyranny is spreading in Canada thanks to juicy contracts… and promotion made by the desmogblog team owner…

  39. This is 100% the wrong way to do demand response (“smart grid/smart metering”). Pulling data to a centralized site, to then redistribute it back to the customer is so 1980’s – and creates all of these stupid privacy problems without accomplishing anything useful.

    The right way to give customers the ability to respond the electric price signals is to install simple time of use meters that locally record how much power is consumed and at what price. The real time price data is delivered to the customer and the meter via the customer’s existing data connections (or through the cell phone or radio network). And the customer can choose to monitor the price signals and the locally stored usage data and they can respond to the price signals.

    What some of these utilities executives somehow fail to understand is that you simply can’t share customer data – there are decades old precedents where utilities used customer data to identify pot growers. As it turns out it is illegal to do so. The law has to provide an address and customer-specific search warrant type document to access even basic customer data. Any utility sharing data will get slapped back in line pretty quickly.

    Instead, they throw away billions building dedicated fiber optic networks, centrally store customer data, illegally share data, and promise to reach into your house and turn off your appliances when the technology is available. It is a giant pile of stupid.

    For something so easy to do, most utilities manage to make it very expensive, invasive, and complicated.

  40. Any scheme/deal/program that says: “smart” , ”green”, ”evolved”-run…

  41. Of course, this “Smart Meter” cannot control your energy use, just monitor it. Next year, who knows? All part of the watermelon “Smart Grid”, that doesn’t improve energy transmission (that’s basic physics), just allows more government control.

    We were ‘given’ Smart Meters last year, to save meter reading costs. Indeed. And my Electric/gas/water bills went up 20% the month after. No rate increase, and no way to determine calibration. Just higher bills. All three meters installed in one week. Low power RF to utility pole mounted receivers. With no verification, nor opt out. Greedy business or George Orwell? Is there a difference?

    “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
    Thomas Jefferson, 1788

  42. “… the Public Utility Commission just granted PG&E a rate hike to pay for lost profits…”

    Instead of rate hikes, there are probably other places to cut costs.

  43. We got tired of PG&E’s crap. So we re-roofed the house with solar panels. We consistantly produce more power than we need now. But they don’t pay for the extra. It just rolls over into next month’s bill, and then the next. The amount they credit you for each KWH you sell back to them is based on the wholesale value of that power, not the retail price they charge you if the power flows the other way. At the end of the year the slate is wiped clean, and we start over. There’s no incentive at all to stay connected to the grid. So we told PG&E to where they can put their smart meter.

  44. “GE brings bad things to life.” appears to be the new slogan looking at that meter face.

  45. @Mr Green Genes – As I recall your government (UK) have already informed you that you will be short of power. Probably political as well as electrical.

  46. Sorry, it’s much worse than you describe here. I’ve already posted on your blog about it. At least people are starting to get the idea. Good for you.

  47. You need to watch for the other shoe to drop on this one.
    Here in Ontario the ‘smart’ meters were followed by ‘free’ (i.e. paid by the taxpayer) home thermostats, that allow the mothership to monitor and control the temperature of your house.

    I suspect these will soon be made compulsory for everyone, at which point the electricity suppliers will in effect have a remote thermostat to turn your house up a few degrees in the Summer as they hit peak load on hot days.

    I was surprised to see some of my neighbours voluntarily taking them up on this, but like I say I expect we will all be forced to have them soon enough anyway.

    Meanwhile our provincial government has signed a $9 billion contract with a South Korean firm for windmills and increased tax on electricity, home heating fuel etc by 5%.

  48. I cannot remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday. So, in a month from now, when I get this smart bill, is it going to tell me how I fixed by breakfast this morning and for how long I had my coffee pot running so I can stop eating foods that take too long to cook?

    Instant read outs would be much more helpful, maybe an alarm to sound when more than xxx watts are being drawn at one time, shut stuff off until the alarm stops.

  49. I seem to recall at least one online article about how these things dump large, constant EMF “pollution” into their immediate environments. There are people who are sensitive to EMF, and develop physical symptoms of overexposure; nausea, headaches, fatigue, and aches to name a few.

    I can’t wait to see the class-action lawsuits start up once enough of these people are affected, and start to take action. Unfortunately, it will take enough of these people being affected before this will happen, and in the meantime, they will live lives of misery.

    I’ve still got my old “dumb” meter. When ERCOT finally gets around to swapping mine out, I will be very tempted to put together a Farday cage wire trellis for my trumpet vine which just so happened to be planted immediately below the meter.

  50. There is nothing smart about this technology; nor does it actually do any good for energy savings. The only likely purpose for installing these units is that they are the infrastructure that is needed to implement billing for power at different rates at different times.
    If they were to have installed these devices with their true purpose known, there would probably be a lot more resistance. This way the infrastructure is in place and some nameless bureaucrat will just throw the switch. Fait accompli.

  51. Remember the words of our great Leader, Obama, “We can’t all expect to be able to keep our thermostats at 72 degrees.”

    Smart meters are just the start. Next there will be stronger determination to gain access to control thermostats within the home. Your energy consumption will be heavily regulated by those sitting in a nice, comfortable office who are part of the system…but do not have to abide by the system. There is a drive for stronger controls and erosion of personal freedom and liberty, that only grows every day. The backbone of this erosion feeds off of energy consumption and its climate change derivative. But, one should not be surprised that even in a 100% green energy economy, or in a world where climate change is found to be 100% natural, the push for heavy regulation over the lives of “free” people would not abate, where control over your daily routine from cradle to grave would be nominal.

  52. Sorry for the double-post. Mods are more than welcome to concatenate them if they so desire.

    Anything that stands any sort of chance of being hacked, will be hacked. Technology doesn’t matter, there are simply people out there who feel the need to steal. People steal now with the “dumb” meters, by splicing into wires on the “wrong” side of the meter. No matter how encrypted or super-duper-secret keyed you make these “smart” meters, they will be hacked. It’s just a matter of time.

    To borrow from Ace O’ Spades, the analogy he once gave to something similar was that of the hamster you kept as a childhood pet. Sooner or later, it would always escape. Always. After the first time it got out, you put a couple books on the screen lid. A month later, it figured out a way around the books. So you’d do something else. A couple months later, you’d come home from school and it was out again.

    Why? Because the hamster had all day to devote most of his thoughts to escape. He’d mull it over while eating. He’d dream of it while sleeping. You didn’t stand a chance. You had hordes of other stuff to think about other than thwarting escape…school, chores, friends. You had other stuff to worry about than the “escape / not-escape” battle. But not the hamster. He was dedicated. Sure, his through processes weren’t as efficient as yours, and he was smaller and weaker. But he had the distinct advantage of time. All day, while you were at school, he had nothing but time to try and fail. He only needed to get it right once, and he was out.

    It’ll be the same with smart meters.

  53. I was approached by ConEd 3 years ago to put “smart thermostats” in my stores to allow me monitor my usage and environment remotely, and get slightly lower rates. Sounded good until I read the fine print that allows ConEd to remotely turn off your AC during high usage.

    Crazy..

  54. For the few that actually care about this issue and motivated enough, one anonymizing strategy would be to setup a bitcoin miner or other cloud-based information-monetizing* load balancer behind the smart meter. The current would maintain a steady draw from the grid with no time-based activity patterns detectable from outside the load balancer.

    Or trade/donate to the WCG.
    http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/
    http://www.easynews.com/wcg/info.phtml

  55. Google was (still is?) pushing to provide, free of charge, the in-home software interface between meter and customer. That way, Google archives all of your energy use data. What could go wrong?

    Others have already pointed out that smart meters are often followed by time-of-use pricing and across-the-board price increases.

    Some smart meters have remote control disconnect capability. This is an opportunity to let renewable energy supporters pay the actual cost and experience the capacity factor of renewable energy. When the wind drops off, or the solar farm output drops, the customer is simply disconnected until the renewable source comes back on. There is no need for backup generation or storage, which saves money. The load shedding is nearly instantaneous, so day-ahead weather forecasts are not really needed. And, the customer receives a more realistic renewable energy ‘experience.’ Its a win-win.

  56. This is why we opted to go off-grid, 100% solar. No raising fees, carbon taxes, or tyrannical electricity companies. Not only that, but we have no electricity bills and our system will pay for itself in about ten years (based on 2009 electricity prices). Is our choice helping save the planet? Not likely. Is it freedom? Absolutely!

  57. SANS The Internet Storm Center had an article on the security implications of HVAC monitoring equipment back in 2008:

    http://isc.sans.edu/diary.html?storyid=4681

    Risks considered include:
    Confidentiality – the data gathered on your household habits
    Integrity – Unauthorized access/settings issues
    Availability – What if there’s a network outage of some sort
    Authentication – Weak passwords anyone?
    Wireless – interference of yet another wireless device. Data encryption anyone?

    This article is worth the read, even if you’re not technically inclined.
    Paul

  58. Elizabeth (not the Queen)- you say “This is why we opted to go off-grid, 100% solar. ”

    I’d be interested in reading details about your system.
    Do you use battery backup?
    Did you install the system yourself, or use a contractor?
    Does the 10 year payback time cover all costs, including backup storage?
    Did you cut electricity use at the same time?
    In what part of the country are you located?

    I am in Florida, and have been tracking solar PV costs for years now, as I also want to install a solar PV to cover 100% of my electricity use.

    Thanks.

  59. Personally I love the smart homes, it is so comfortable to be able to save energy from ones couch with the easy use of cloned neighbors remote control units. :p

  60. This is just the first step. The next step would be sanctions agains wasteful households.

  61. Gary D. says:

    “Why do Americans continue living in California?”

    Inertia.

    But one by one, they’re starting to drift away. California has wonderful scenery and great weather. But the corrupt governments, both state and local, have destroyed this once-great state.

    Cops in my city are paid $202,000 a year [including benefits, which equal 82% of their base pay]. They can retire at 50 with all of their benefits and 90% of their pay. Firefighters aren’t far behind.

    Their pitch is that they have dangerous jobs. But American soldiers in Afghanistan have much more dangerous jobs, and their pay is moderate. In this economy if public employee pay was cut in half, there would still be a line of applicants from San Francisco to Miami. You have to know someone to get a good gov’t job here, and that makes the system corrupt.

    When California inevitably begs the other 49 states to bail it out, the answer should be a loud “No!” And that goes for New Jersey and every other state where the politicians have made irresponsible, self-serving promises to public employee unions and other special interests. The President of the U.S. is paid $400,000; no local government employee is worth over $200,000 a year, especially for blue collar jobs like police officers and firemen.

    The people leaving California aren’t the government employees, they’re the hard-bitten taxpayers who are forced to pay for this public extravagance. California killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

  62. The word “smart” has now become a double entendre much like the word “progressive” really means extreme left-wing. What exactly makes the meter smart? It has no intelligence, therefore it is not smart. But saying “smart meter” is much less offensive than saying “constant monitoring meter”. It is not what you say but how you say it.

  63. I already have a way of monitoring my energy use. When I turn on a light I use more energy, when I turn it off I use less. How hard is that? Do I know exactly how much I save by turning things off? No. But if I did I would ask for a smart meter. If I don’t ask, then don’t give me one.

  64. The entire model of energy delivery has been turned on its head. Power companies are now in the business of selling the least amount of energy they can. And the current tax and regulatory climate encourages power companies to utilize the least efficient means of production. Thus we see energy prices spiral up ward while the amount sold per unit goes ever downward. Any economist would tell you that this business model is deeply flawed and will ultimately collapse. It rewards its own inefficiency with the goal of selling no power at the maximum price. This is insanity. Power companies should be encouraged to sell the most power at the least price.
    This type of thinking will destroy industry after industry, consumerism itself, until America resembles the rust heaps and drudgery of the USSR circa 1990.

  65. Smart meters aren’t just for electricity any more:

    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/smart-takes/ottawa-taps-itron-for-210000-smart-water-meters/15952?tag=nl.e660

    “The City of Ottawa has chosen smart grid firm Itron to deploy smart water meters and related infrastructure in town.
    The fourth largest city in Canada, Ottawa is using the deployment as part of a greater Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, scheme that hopes to help its local utility eliminate estimated billing for customers and improve efficiency in water service operations.”

    Smart water meters?! So here comes usage-based billing for the water you use in your home. And it gets worse… There is buzz that these meters be imposed on rural residents who have their own wells. They will be billed even though they do not use municipal water or sewage, and the vast majority manage their well and septic system properly. Another tax/money grab.

  66. Well, as long as there are laws to protect us from lawyers, legislators and government regulators and only approved ways that the information can be sold for gain, what’s not to like? More and more – and especially so with energy – activitists and government work hand in hand to contorl us for our own good. I don’t see any proposed protections against control but a lot of rationale about energy efficiency to permit control. Misuse of information by the “bad old corporations” is a misdirection of attention form control of your house and of you.

  67. Even though there are advocates for protecting our personal information, this information always gets out.
    I have zero faith in short term victories, and in a slow dance towards limiting personal freedoms, which this is really all about, the next step will be to tie into the major appliances, more automated than ever, and start shutting them down too.

  68. Douglas DC says:
    May 12, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Any scheme/deal/program that says: “smart” , ”green”, ”evolved”-run…

    A great American once said, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” The context of the quotation was that they were described as the nine most terrifying words in the English language. I think the phrase should be amended to somehow include modern green terminology.

  69. Does anyone have information on political movements against smartmeters? Any lawsuits? Any politicians running against them?

  70. Given that energy generation costs vary by an order of magnitude over the course of the day, allowing time of use pricing in the residential sector (it already is widely used in commercial/industrial sectors) would help make the electricity market considerably more efficient and reduce capital outlays for unnecessary peaking units.

    While there are legitimate privacy concerns that need to be addressed (and some rather silly objections by folks scared of “radiation” from their smart meter), in the long run having the ability to do real-time pricing would better align incentives between producers and consumers. As free market advocates, folks here should appreciate the benefits of that.

    REPLY: The time of use option is the primary benefit of the SmartMeter. I have that feature enabled. However, even PG&E admits they really botched the rollout of these and once public trust is lost, it is very hard to regain. Making people pay for a meter post facto, when they never had to pay for one before (since it is part of the service) is doubly stupid public relations on PG&E’s part. It is like the IRS charging citizens to accept their tax return and file it (and I don’t put that past the government to implement someday) – Anthony

  71. We here in N. Calif. would like to opt out of Calif.
    We are the State of Jefferson, and the sooner we rid ourselves of the control freaks in Sacramento, who have abandoned this part of the State not once but twice, the better.

  72. Zeke Hausfather is clueless about the free market. These meters amount to government regulation. Only those who fawn over Big Brother and the concomiant loss of freedom would approve of this scheme. The rest of us are happy to regulate our electricity use on our own, based on our monthly utility bill. Zeke needs to read the article.

  73. Dennis Cox says:
    May 12, 2011 at 8:06 am
    “We got tired of PG&E’s crap. So we re-roofed the house with solar panels. We consistantly produce more power than we need now. But they don’t pay for the extra. It just rolls over into next month’s bill, and then the next. The amount they credit you for each KWH you sell back to them is based on the wholesale value of that power, not the retail price they charge you if the power flows the other way. At the end of the year the slate is wiped clean, and we start over. There’s no incentive at all to stay connected to the grid. So we told PG&E to where they can put their smart meter.”

    This is not a solution to the problem. You have been coerced into buying your freedom. And your future options are limited. For people living in the frozen north of the USA, St. Louis and north, your option is no genuine option. There isn’t enough sunlight.

    However, the big problem is we should not be coerced in these matters. We should fight for our liberties.

  74. First the old mechanical electricity consumption meters are to be replaced with all electronic ‘smart’ meters.

    The smart meters are used to analyze peak use times and forward the data to the home office.

    The home office uses the data to charge more for electricity during peak hours.

    Next the ‘smart’ meters are replaced by even smarter meters that have features to ration electricity by remote control. Not long after the remote control features are implemented, the techno-geek comedians learn to hack in and switch off people’s houses as a joke.

    At last, the Sun experiences a huge coronal mass ejection, and the smart meters switch off everybody’s house.

  75. There are some serious misconceptions on what “smart meters” can and cannot do in this thread.

    I’m not going to say whether they are good or bad, or minimize a personal data security risk. But some of the comments here are based more on paranoia, and less on the capabilities of the meters.

    I have worked on adjuncts to several smart meters, including the one pictured in this article (the GE I210+). While I am no expert on smart metering or smart grids, I do have knowledge of what the meters can store in their databases, what data can be reported back to the utilities and what level of control the utilities have over individual consumer appliances. Believe it or not, there are actually benefits for the consumer with a smart grid. I’ll cover some of those towards the end of this response.

    First and foremost: the data gathered does not directly say whether someone is at home or not. Such information is implicit; i.e., if the air conditioner temperature was raised in the summer day time, then it is likely that no-one is at home. However, note that the meter itself has no knowledge of what a thermostat is set to. Nor does a meter need to store data on what an individual residential appliance is consuming what power. Technically, it could record that data. However, the standard that drives what is collected by meter data bases in the United States (and is used de-facto in Australia, since Australia does not have a comparable standard), ANSI C12.19, includes no provision for such data. The standard does provide for “Manufacturer Tables”, which are essentially custom data bases, but there is no reason for a meter to know or care about a thermostat setting. Should a utility be caught collecting such data in meter data bases, they should rightfully be castigated for doing so. Note that state utility regulatory agencies generally have strict guidelines over what the utilities do collect and what is contained in the meter data bases. Should you have a concern about what is actually collected, you should contact the regulatory agency and ask them.

    So, just what *is* collected by smart meters? Well, the most important thing to a consumer and utility alike, is something called “Load Profile”. Load profile is mostly power consumed over a discrete period of time. It is usually recorded in KWatts per time unit, where time unit is anything from 1 hour down to 5 minutes. Some meters can actually collect data down to the 1 minute interval. However, the smaller the time unit, the more memory required to store the data, the more expensive the meter (or the less cumulative time that can be stored). Consequently, the 5 minute or less interval data is usually only used for diagnostic purposes. 15 minute or 1 hour load profile data seems to be very common. Load profile data allows a utility to statistically determine where power is required at what times. Residential, commercial and industrial load profiles will be different, and the types of energy consumed (inductive, resistive) will also be different, and this allows utilities to plan generation and distribution more efficiently. There is much more these meters can do, but for the purposes of a concise discussion about risks these meters provide, this will suffice.

    So what is the Zigbee radio for? Well, the Zigbee radio can serve two purposes: 1) as a backhaul network to send collected meter data back to the utility, and 2) as an in-house system to talk to individual appliances within a residence. Personally, I consider the Zigbee radio the weakest link in the security chain. Note however, that most homes use IEEE 802.11 WiFi radios to communicate to home PCs. These networks carry far more personal data then energy consumption (and even the inferred “is anyone home” data that would take some analysis to determine). It is a security risk, and consumers are rightfully wary of them. But the risks should be put into context of the risks we already take and are comfortable with (e.g., our WiFi connections).

    The first use of the Zigbee radios listed above, the backhaul network for the utility, is usually only used where the utility does not have another backhaul data network. Note that most large utilities in major urban areas already have some form of backhaul network. They can already turn power on and off to your house remotely (called appropriately “Remote Disconnect”), and report power consumed for a billing period. These backhaul networks can be carried over the existing power lines, by proprietary wireless networks (which should be considered more of a security risk than Zigbee, since the standards for these networks are un-published and cannot be reviewed), or other separate communications infrastructure.

    The second use of the Zigbee radios, the in-house communication’s system, is very interesting. This use forms a network called a “Home Area Network” or HAN, and this is what is used to control individual appliances in a residential home. Only appliances that are a Smart Energy device can be controlled. So even if a smart meter with a Zigbee radio has been installed at your home, no appliance control is possible unless you have explicitly placed Smart Energy appliances in your home an enabled them.

    So what is “control” of an individual Smart Energy appliance? Well, as you can expect, part of that control is allowing the utility to turn on/off non-critical appliances during a peak power consumption events. If the utility has run out of reserve power, and has to resort to rolling black outs, an alternative is offered by Smart Energy appliances. This could allow the utility to turn off the pool pump, the electric dryer, the air-conditioner, and other non-critical appliances as opposed to whole-sale neighborhood blackouts.

    However, this “control” is not just turning things on and off. The electric industry is moving toward tiered rate structure charges for power consumption. That is, electricity consumed during peak power consumption time frames will be more expensive than that used during non-peak times. The HAN network allows the utility to communicate to individual appliances what the electric rates are for specific times, and this allows the appliance (as directed by the appliance owner), when to turn itself on or when to throttle itself. So, if you have your e-car parked in the garage, the HAN enabled charger for the car can decide when it is the cheapest to use the most juice to re-energize the car batteries. Ditto for electric clothes dryers (throw your clothes in the dryer, and tell the dryer to turn on when power is the cheapest), air conditioner (keep the house a bit warmer during peak hours on a summer day, and cool it more when off-peak), etc. The HAN network would also allow the consumer to see exactly what appliance is consuming what power and which appliance is costing them the most.

    Since this response is too long already, I will end this discussion here. In summary, there are benefits to a consumer (smarter use of power which can result in a lower electric bill, avoidance of blackouts during high power consumption times) with smart energy. These benefits, like any technological development, do come with risks. It is up to consumers to decide if these risks are worth the benefits.

  76. Lose some data? It’s not like it is secret nuclear weapon data that Los Alamos Labs work with.

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s most important nuclear weapons lab, lost another hard disk drive filled with classified information, once again throwing a spotlight on lab officials who have been trying to re-emerge from years of scandals and mismangement.

    http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2004/05/63553

  77. Funny how the many of the same folks who support net neutrality don’t want electicity use neutrality.

  78. The gubment knows better how to make decisions than you do.
    I picture the Post Office. The feds could take over all the utilities and become a large GSE. All energy would be both free and rationed.

  79. Smokey,

    Say I was a utility company like Duke or PG&E. It costs me about $1 per kwh to buy electricity from producers at 7 PM on a hot July day when electricity use hits its peak. Just 4 hours later, at midnight, it costs me $0.04 cents to buy the same kwh. Without smart meters, I can only charge the customer a fixed rate (say, $0.14 per kwh) for all usage during the month. This misalignment of price signals is a barrier to an efficient market for energy.

    To give another example, most folks think that electric cars will make up a greater share of vehicles on the road in the future. However, if everyone gets home from work and plugs in the vehicle at the same time, it would dramatically increase peak load and costs for utilities. Smart meters (and associated time of use pricing) would allow a utility to provide incentives (e.g. much cheaper energy) for customers to choose to charge their vehicle overnight when electricity is cheap rather than immediately when they get home.

    I’ll agree with Anthony that PG&E screwed the pooch on the smart meter rollout (quick disclaimer: my day job involves working in the energy efficiency space, so I’ve met with PG&E’s smart meter team numerous times). They installed the meters (sans any time of use pricing) right as they instituted a overall rate increase and just before one of the hottest summers on record for the central valley, causing folks to blame the smart meter when their bills went up. They also failed to communicate effectively to their customers about why they were installing the meter and what benefits it could provide.

    Similarly, I’m skeptical that we will see much adoption in the home automation space, at least in the short term. Folks really don’t want the utility shutting off their A/C when its hot. A much better approach is to 1) align economic incentives between utilities and consumers via time of use pricing and 2) use all the data available from smart meters to pinpoint potential savings opportunities for homes (e.g. much higher summer cooling use than seen in similar homes) and provide residential homeowners with targeted savings recommendations that they can choose to follow if they want to save. Obviously smart meter data comes with privacy concerns, and any transmission of data to third parties should occur only under strict privacy rules and standards.

  80. Ron Dean, that was interesting but one thing that I caught out of it was that it was more important to control energy usage during ‘peak demand’ time than it was to expand our generating capacity so that the energy would/could be available during that ‘peak demand’ period. Again, the utilities are readying us for a third world future rather than trying to keep up with the first world. When did we get so tired that we just gave up?

  81. You only need ‘smart meters’ if you’re planning on making electricity a scarce resource.

    All this is the downstream effect of making electricity expensive and unreliable to produce. How many gas fired power stations can you build for the cost of all this ‘smart meter’ infrastructure?

    Oh, I forgot, the consumer is paying for the ‘smart’ meter infrastructure (and all the management that goes with it).

  82. I thought that global warming was going to kill wifi?

    Doesn’t that mean that these smart meters will stop working when we need them most?

    \sarc

  83. It’s encouraging to see the number of commenters who treat the rubbish about “benefits to the consumer” with the contempt it deserves, and rightly worry about the implications of this kind of system.

    I’m envious too that you live in a place where the discussion of privacy actually extends to things like “smart” snoop-and-control systems. Here in the UK, the only time you’ll ever hear the word “privacy” on the British Brainwashing Corporation is in the context of this or that celebrity (I use the word as loosely as they do) trying to cover up some – usually sexual – indiscretion. No mention is ever made of, f’rinstance, the serried ranks of databases selling one another our information, and the only recent mention of CCTV is the current Bill to “regulate” it: this turns out to mean, not (as one might hope) the reining in of the ubiquitous infestation of this intrusion, but ensuring that all the equipment is good enough to ensure that the authorities get more and better forensic detail of our lives. Truly, you are lucky.

    Oh, and DocD, that “kindly hacker” … I like your style, Doc, I really do. :-D

  84. Zeke Hausfather,

    Your entire premise is based on the false belief that PG&E cannot price electricity higher during the day or in the summer, thus your argument in favor of smart meters fails. The public will reduce their KWHs if they know rates are higher at certain times.

    There is no excuse for installing these intrusive meters. It is just too easy for government to misuse the enhanced snooping capability. Government is a necessary evil. But it is still evil, and the information collected by these new meters will eventually be misused.

  85. Rhoda Ramirez says:
    May 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Ron Dean, that was interesting but one thing that I caught out of it was that it was more important to control energy usage during ‘peak demand’ time than it was to expand our generating capacity so that the energy would/could be available during that ‘peak demand’ period. Again, the utilities are readying us for a third world future rather than trying to keep up with the first world. When did we get so tired that we just gave up?

    Hi Rhoda,

    Infrastructure investment is almost always expensive, and any fiscally responsible company is going to try to avoid them whenever possible. Here in Florida, during the mid 1980s when the utilities were more tightly regulated, there was a requirement to have a 10% “spinning reserve” for electric utilities. A spinning reserve is on-line generator capability over and above the consumed power. This mitigates any failure in the power system, such as a generator unexpectedly going off-line.

    As regulation weakened, the electric utilities cut the spinning reserve to save infrastructure investment. This also allows the utility to save fuel costs for unused surplus electricity. As I understand it now, Florida has somewhere between 5% and 2% spinning reserve. That means any interruption in electric generation now results in black-outs.

    The whole smart energy thing allows utilities to have finer control over energy consumption during generation-outages events without resorting to blackouts. It also allows less infrastructure investment and fuel costs for unused electricity. Keep in mind that lower costs do save consumers money too; at least theoretically ;).

  86. The move to smart meters is another facet of Obama’s move to create an Orwellian National Socialist State for the benefit of an elitist corporate -political- ruling class.
    The whole CO2 – warming scare has been a useful tool towards that goal.
    For example the Boxer – Kerry and Waxman – Markey bills represented the greatest threat that America’s constitutional democracy has ever faced.
    Anthropogenic (CO2 caused) Global Warming was used as a pretext to try to grab control of all economic activity in the country because congress would decide the price of all energy and therefore economic activity via the distribution of carbon credits to whomever contributes most to their campaign funds. Energy production would be diverted to so called “green ” sources which are hopelessly uneconomic unless heavily subsidised.
    If the bill had passed the Senate all private real estate would have essentially ceased to exist because Obama’s climate police under the bill as written would decide the appraisal value of all real estate and thus control the sales price of everyone’s home. Any alterations or improvements would have had to be approved by government inspectors.
    A vast bureaucracy was proposed to be created to run this virtual totalitarian police state run for the benefit of the congress and whichever corporations or special interests pay them the most.
    It is more and more likely that the earth is entering a 20 – 30 year cool spell during which crop production will be seriously reduced at a time of increasing population. Obama’s policies which dictate and subsidise increased ethanol production ,for the chief benefit of Archer Daniels Midland corporation, and Presidential candidates in Iowa, even at a time of enormous deficits, would greatly exacerbate this problem and worsen the worldwide food shortages which might well occur if the cooling actually develops.
    The main stream media have mainly aided and abetted this vast transfer of power to the politicians and corporations -in some cases , e.g. NBC, – Time Magazine because they were controlled by a company – General Electric which spent millions on lobbying in order to benefit from the Waxman bill or because of the political (Socialist – world government ) agenda of its leaders e.g . BBC. NPR PBS
    It is essential that the grass roots of working middle America become informed about this looming threat and come together to speak out and stop this takeover by a kleptocratic and self appointed elite who plan to be the rulers of this National Socialist state .
    The smart meter scam is designed and promoted by companies like GE and Microsoft who hope that their politician agents require that everyone pay for the manufac ture and installation of all the metering equipment and for a whole new generation of appliances which have the necessary controls and possibly Wi Fi connections so that another whole aspect of life can be controlled for their profit.
    It is getting late in the day to stop all this. The Government’s finances have been taken over by Goldman Sachs – largely for their benefit and the whole jobs issue is now in the hands of GE.

  87. Res non sunt quid erant says on May 12, 2011 at 6:24 am:

    How about covering the thing with aluminum foil to block the RF signal?

    LOS – Loss of (heartbeat) Signal (from infrastructure equipment) results in automatic disconnect … b/c this is a SMART meter (maybe not immediately, but after a day, maybe two or three; long enough to get on the ‘work list’ of some bloke whose responsibility it is to check up on those meters not responding to a ‘ping’).

    .

  88. Meanwhile, in the UK, apparently the utility companies are already ‘forced’ to spend £45 per year per customer telling them how to Save Energy. Next, these Smart Meters are scheduled to come in at £340 each by 2020, but if they’re less than £1,000 by then, I’ll also be The King of England.
    Recently, some group or another tried to highlight that it thought CCTV cameras in the UK were effectively photographing everyone about 300 times per day.
    “Oh no” cries Chief Constable Plod, “CCTV cameras only photograph everybody 70 times per day”
    Ah well, that’s alright then.
    Just today, Plod is fighting an FoI request about covert cameras recording car number plates here in the UK.
    Story from MSN UK… http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=157439330&ucpg=3#uc2Lst

    It seems that there are 10,000 hidden cameras reading every car number plate that goes past them.
    In the UK, that is one camera for every 5 miles of road.

    Somebody somewhere is paranoid, or what……

  89. This involuntary installation of wireless meters networks is happening everywhere globally, almost at the same time. When it comes to Smart meters, there are a number of serious substantiated and scientifically proven health issues involved here, in addition to the upending of constitutional rights to privacy.
    That said, the vast majority of people voluntarily subject themselves to RF and EMF pollution in the name of convenience all the time, from domestic and office WiFi wireless networks to microwave cell phones held against the head to high gig satellite portable phones placed all over the house to microwave ovens. Few make the connection between convenience and risk.
    Ironically, for those who have avoided RF and EMF microwave pollution as possible, this involuntary exposure is justifiably felt to be even more of an invasion and a theft of not only privacy but health.
    And for those with cancer? More so.
    Smart meter co-option of ones house wiring is effectively a way of becoming blanketed inside the ultimate WiFi enclosure cage, one of nearly 7 times the microwave intensity which one would experience living near to a cell tower.
    Even with the repellent privacy issues aside, could they have done so in a safe manner for a bit more money? Absolutely. Fibre optic upgrades, or even the use of one’s phone line’s copper wiring would have made the scheme for wireless transmission irrelevant. Wireless was simply cheaper from a corporate perspective. Everywhere Energy Acts have been passed in order for Smart Maters to move forward en masses, legislation rendering involuntary the acceptance of the installation of these meters and deeming the entire wireless issue to be legally irrelevant to human health.
    Ironically, there seems to be a great degree of candour and “save-the-planet” acceptance of a metering network inside the green movement.
    Many remain remarkably unquestioning or even endorse the primary intention of this device. A large number of self identified greens do not take issue with the intended purpose of this house network system, indeed they approve of the fact that smart meters are MEANT to be linked together, designed to share data, intended to feed data to about 1 meter in every 1000 meters, even more powerful meters placed on certain homes that are designed to receive data those other meters installed on the surrounding houses. So smart meters are designed for and MEANT to be used for surveillance of energy and house activity purposes. They most certainly are not about energy savings.
    That these meters have an output which can be significantly amplified within a certain distance of sell phone towers and other devices, that they can cross feed and interrupt other devices, that they have been known to fry circuits, cause house fires, interfere with medical devices, is of no corporate concern. That not-so-Smart meters can be readily hacked, and that they also are a very effective way to monitor the comings and goings of house occupants is seen by some as one of the perks, at least for those who control and endorse the use of that data, legally or otherwise.
    That this is an invasion for those who are under the microwave microscope is irrelevant from a corporate perspective. Smart meters, as I understand it, are a UN implemented global initiative which effectively overrides national sovereignty and bypasses dozens of constitutional and legal issues. In co-opting one’s house wiring and using it for microwaves data surges which exceed cell phone tower levels many times a minute this also violates private property issues. Sure the power corporations do own the meters. Does the power company also own your house wiring? Maybe…

  90. I don’t think smart meters will ever “save” energy. I mean, what are they going to do? It isn’t as if they can turn off the power on your home, and to get the information into the home would be expensive. And there are no plans I’m aware of to do it for PG&E.

    Smart meters simply eliminate the need for people to read the meters. Also, they will allow companies like PG&E to have better metrics, which the PUC uses to determine how well the utility delivers power. They will do this by increasing response time to loss of grid and reroute power faster. This will keep the fines lower for PG&E.

    Consumer benefits? I can’t think of any.

  91. Let’s not forget this is the same PG & E that spent $25 million to $40 million attempting to pass a referendum which would effectively enshrine themselves permanently as the utility providers to all existing municipal customers.

    http://exiledonline.com/how-pge-plans-to-screw-the-golden-state-by-enshrining-its-corporate-energy-monopoly-in-the-california-constitution/

    The same utility which has been unable to come up with documentation covering the natural gas pipeline explosion – which appears to have been caused by ‘stress testing’.

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-01-09/news/27018626_1_san-bruno-line-pg-e-pacific-gas

    http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-02-13/news/28532469_1_pipeline-pg-e-president-chris-johns-pacific-gas

    Let’s not forget PG & E is also the beneficiary of decades of public spending which built the dozens of dams which make PG & E so ‘green’.

    PG & E is also at the warmist forefront in providing support and its name behind all sorts of AGW political organizations.

  92. Sorry, I have family and friends in “Caulifornia”, and I love to visit it. But birds of a feather and all. Until you guys are willing to stop electing idiots like Moonbeam Brown, there is no hope for you.

  93. reason says on May 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Eh.

    I’m still making my Faraday trellis.

    So … you think an E-field only shield is going to make that much difference?

    .

  94. Zeke Hausfather says:

    Just 4 hours later, at midnight, it costs me $0.04 cents to buy the same kwh. Without smart meters, I can only charge the customer a fixed rate

    Time of day metering was trialed in various places more then 20 years ago.

    Sorry…the government has been quietly inserting all kinds of clever devices into our home environments(for our own good). I have digital cable…and my cable box has been ‘locked’ onto the Emergency Alert System more then once.

    First will be the smart meters, then will come the smart appliances.

  95. The “Smart” meters/grid will not solve any problems. The reason it won’t is because it adds a significant level of complexity to an already complex system. Complexity leads to chaos (of the mathematical variety as well as the social variety), and failure.

  96. Brian D Finch says:
    May 12, 2011 at 5:24 am

    …useful information for burglars too.
    ============

    Used to be they’d just case the joint, first. Now they can pay someone to download the info from the central repository and translate it into something the burglar understands.

    Can’t imagine PG&E skimping on security measures for this data.
    /sarc-off

  97. I have direct experience in “Smart meters” as an executive in a competive electricity market. There are smart meters and then there are smart meters. All of them are actually quite dumb! By way of back ground, reading meters has been a challenge in the electricity industry for a long time. The general mode has been people walking from door to door. It may or may not surprise you that this is a relatively dangerous occupation, trips, falls, car accidents and dog attacks are quire common. The economics of this are a function of density, dense cities good, rural areas bad.

    A company can always elect to read less frequently, but then faces either billing less frequently (working capital effect) of billing on estimated data (customer dis-satisfaction effect).

    Many different systems have been trialled, drive by radio, power line carrier etc. Replacement cost has also been an issue with a standard disc meter or single register digital meter being very cheap and a full time of use smart meter being relatively expensive. However, like most things volume production matters. A number of regulators around the world decided that all their respective customers should have smart meters. Once someone starts to order millions the price falls and they become economic to the next group etc.

    Not all meters have remote disconnect built in. This is a very expensive feature and has safety implications. You think something is not working, play with the wires, the circuit gets remotely reconnected and ……zap!

    The primary drivers range from cost reduction, no meter readers, improved data accurracy, to fantasies about all customers wanting to pay spot prices (have you ever seen the non-normal distribution of spot prices? They are bounded by zero on one end and sometimes nothing on the other!) and regulators who know what is best for everyone.

    There are many products where the underlying commodity or key input varies through time, seasonally or based on demand etc. Not all of these mean that as consumers we face constant changing prices (petrol and interest rates being a few that vary on very short time frames as do seasonal vegetables).

    Information matters. Signalling prices can be just as important as making people pay prices. You will not like time of use prices when you get them! Even with interest rates we get the opportunity to hedge the underlying changes in the variable rate, by taking 1,2,10 or 30 year mortgage rates. Offering mulit-year fixed prices is becoming common in the market where I am based.

    To date appliance manufacturers have shown little interest in interfacing to electricity price signals, why? Hardly any customers know it could be possible and even less want it!

    Many meters are using wireless transmission, cellular etc. This is because communications access has in the past been a problem. Anyone noticed where most of their communications goes, yes the internet. Eventually these meters will talk directly into an internet connection.

    And for the person who suggested covering them in foil, well the systems tell us when a meter has not responded for awhile, so we send someone to check. Most of us in the electricty sector are pretty slow, but even we can work out that type of caper!

  98. DJ said “This ranks with putting a GPS device on your car that not only logs how many miles you drive, how fast you drive each of those miles, but upon which road you travel upon…

    I already had a call from our insurance company asking if I wanted to be part of a trail group for these auto GPS trackers. They said since I had a new teenage driver, it would be a useful thing for me to check where he is or how fast he is going.

    Big brother is so almost completely here…

  99. The idea that smart meters are not an invasion of privacy is exceedingly naive. Some of the items that can be entered in evidence in a court of law in the USA include your credit card records, your phone records, your internet records and just about anything for which there is not a law creating an exception. So, your power use records will be admissible in court.

    The idea that your power use records cannot be read to discover your habits is mind boggling on a blog such as this one. There will be forensics experts and thieves who can eyeball your records and discover the signature for your computer. So, your computer use will become admissible in court.

    This is a huge invasion of privacy and if it does not offend you, especially Americans, then I can only suspect that you have some motive for surrendering your freedom. What is it? Are you a watermelon?

  100. Ron Dean writes: “So what is “control” of an individual Smart Energy appliance? Well, as you can expect, part of that control is allowing the utility to turn on/off non-critical appliances during a peak power consumption events. If the utility has run out of reserve power, and has to resort to rolling black outs, an alternative is offered by Smart Energy appliances. This could allow the utility to turn off the pool pump, the electric dryer, the air-conditioner, and other non-critical appliances as opposed to whole-sale neighborhood blackouts. ”

    Sorry but you just sound like BC Hydro marketers…
    It “could” lower your bill… reminds me of the “may”, “could” we find so often in the alarmist climate literature…
    Who is to decide what is non critical appliance? Tell me when I decide to enjoy a great music listening session using my 2x1000w amp power to lift Mahler to a new height, this will be an essential part of my freedom to do as I wish in my home, when I feel like it. It may be deemed not essential for some Ontario Hydro bureaucrat but for me it is as essential as food.
    Blackouts are the results of utilities limited investments in providing safe, reliable power. To suggest that they should become part of our life unless we all play “greeny does debby” is simply advocating second rate service, thought control.

    Anyone concerned about how Big Green is turning the screw on us can read this site
    http://www.smartgridnews.com/index.html
    where all the “good” news for them is reported…

  101. Its know that elevated summer temperatures kill people (particularly old people).
    So when the smart meter turns off your A/C and your cant turn it back on, and someone dies, just what are the power companies going to say in the resultant court case…??

  102. http://www.smartgridnews.com/artman/publish/Technologies_DG_Renewables/Yikes-80-renewables-Smart-grid-stress-test-ahead-3664.html

    “The news that a UN-commissioned report says renewable energy could provide almost 80% of the world’s energy by 2050 may have advocates beaming with joy. While that number comes from the most optimistic scenarios in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released Monday, it indicates that renewable energy sources could grow faster (and sooner) than expected.

    The IPCC panel reviewed 164 scenarios involving six sources of renewable energy: bioenergy, direct solar, geothermal, hydropower, ocean and wind. More than half of the scenarios reviewed put the renewable energy yield at more than 27% by 2050 – that’s still a fairly big number.

    The report, a 25-page distillation of the original 1,000-page assessment, adds that the R&D needed for significant increases in renewable energy is most effective when supported by deployment policies that “simultaneously enhance demand for new technologies.”

    A Business Green article quoted Prof. Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC working group that produced the original assessment, as saying the “…substantial increase of renewables is technically and politically very challenging.” But the report also notes that, even in the absence of those policies, renewables will continue to grow. ”

    This shows Big Green and IPCC working hand in hand. The science does not matter anymore, they are doing it through the backdoor.

  103. One word about Zeke Hausfather’s dream of varying rates for the customer – here in Germany, the ratepayer tariff is 2/3 taxes and 1/3 the cost of the electricity. So, if that third varies it means nearly nothing. They take taxes per kWh, not by multiplying the cost by a facotr (with the exception of VAT).

    Here, smart meters are also advertised as a future cost saving measure for the custgomer – but given the tax structure, you can save only very little. Think the politicians will change the tax structure? Not in this universe… Smart meters are advertised to the gullible.

  104. Well it is more about them increasing their profits at your expense. At the moment, they periodically read your meter, and subtract last month’s numbers to get your total monthly usage. With a smart meter, they know exactly when you are using power, and when you aren’t, and their smart meters, will tell them when most people want to use power, so they will jack up the rate for that period of time, and when everybody is asleeep in a darkened houe with not an electron in motion, they will drop the price.
    They wanted to give me $50 of their customer’s money, to let them put a smart control on my air conditioner, so they can turn it on and off, whenever they want to. So I told them thanks but no thanks. In the seven years I have lived in this house, the air conditioner, has NEVER been turned on; even to test to see if it works. So I don’t want pg@e turning it on and costing me money.

    Now I’m a capitalist, so I believe in free enterprise; but they are a State regulated absolute power monopoly, and all residentials should pay the same electricity rate.

    Now some companies opt for a brown-out rate, that lets pg@e turn them down if usage is very high, and the system is in danger of overload. The companies weigh the risk of that brown out, against a significantly lower rate, for volunteering.

    If you are growing single crystal silicon or even more exotic things; you don’t want a brown out discount.

    By the way, it was just reported earlier thois week that Cree Research (major LED technology biggie) recently set a new white LED efficacy record (Lumens per Watt (electrical)). Typical commercial LED lamps can do about 55 l/W, under real operational conditions. The Cree result was a pulsed room temperature R&D lab result. So they didn’t allow the LED to Temperature stabilize like a production lamp would.
    231 lumens per Watt at 350 mA DC (pulsed) At the forward Voltage of InGaN blue LEDs, that is about one Watt electrical.

    It was about a 4500 K cold white. My guess is a warmer 2700-3500 range white would be less, but 4500 would be ok for some applications.

    Of course this is a research result; it is likely to be a while before they break 100l/W for a commercial production white LED.

    But I’m impressed. Also this was a single die LED, and therefore some blue die/phosphor configuration. Very nice work Cree.

  105. “”””” Neil says:
    May 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm
    I have direct experience in “Smart meters” as an executive in a competive electricity market. There are smart meters and then there are smart meters. All of them are actually quite dumb! By way of back ground, reading meters has been a challenge in the electricity industry for a long time. The general mode has been people walking from door to door. It may or may not surprise you that this is a relatively dangerous occupation, trips, falls, car accidents and dog attacks are quire common. The economics of this are a function of density, dense cities good, rural areas bad. “””””

    Neil, it’s nice to have someone in the industry speak up.

    And by the way, I owe you a beer, the first time somebody reports that their power bill went down because of their smart meter, leading to the power company requesting the PUC to let them lower their electricity rates, because of all the meter readers they laid off.

    And as near as I can remember, I have lived in houses supplied with connect to the grid electricity, for well over 70 years; not quite back to Tesla, and Edison, but almost, and somehow, the power company never ever was unable to read the meter to bill us.

    I would ask your technical experts, why they are unable to read people’s meters like all the other power companies can.

  106. Why they couldn’t read a meter would vary any there are many possible reasons. My father was a meter reader for Wisconsin Electric, so I have some knowledge of this. Additionally at my current home, I have some direct experience with a meter they can’t read (gas, not electric though). One reason might be meter location, some homes especially larger multi-residence bulings and some older homes have the meters located inside the building. If no one is home when the meter reader comes around, they can’t read the meter at that location. When this happens rather than not billing the meter, they apply an estimated reading based on past usage. If a location goes long enough without an actual reading, they send a notice that you have to make an appointment to get an actual reading. With my gas meter, I used to have this issue. The meter is inside in the basement and I am never home during normal readings. The next bill after the scheduled actual reading can include large adjustements from prior bills.

    Another reason they might not be able to read a meter is dogs loose in the yard where the meter is located for an exterior meter. The meter readers are trained to not attempt to read these unless someone is home to restrain the dog. They don’t know which dogs are dangerous and which aren’t.

  107. TomRude says:
    May 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Ron Dean writes: “So what is “control” of an individual Smart Energy appliance? Well, as you can expect, part of that control is allowing the utility to turn on/off non-critical appliances during a peak power consumption events. If the utility has run out of reserve power, and has to resort to rolling black outs, an alternative is offered by Smart Energy appliances. This could allow the utility to turn off the pool pump, the electric dryer, the air-conditioner, and other non-critical appliances as opposed to whole-sale neighborhood blackouts. ”
    Sorry but you just sound like BC Hydro marketers…
    It “could” lower your bill… reminds me of the “may”, “could” we find so often in the alarmist climate literature…

    I have no skin in this game, and as I said above, I’m not saying the smart meters are good or bad. However, your statements above are a bit silly.

    I read the http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/32635 article objecting to smart meters, and I find their arguments lacking. The problems PG&E had with their installations is valid. But arguing that the old technology worked fine thus nothing should be changed, is ludicrous. Using that argument, you should be using a computer build in 1985 with a 100bps modem hooked up to it. Maybe a punched paper tape for external storage. That technology was solid, and worked well – so why did you change it? By the way, put away your GPS and pull out the Loran – and make sure you drive a car made pre 1985- because you should not take advantage of electronic controls in modern vehicles. The old technology worked after all, so why change it?

    Second, you raise a classical “red herring” logical fallacy in comparing my statement to “alarmist climate literature”. One has nothing to do with the other in this conversation – however, I’ll address both your inference and the red herring itself.

    “could” lower your utility bill because I have no control over what the utilities do. I’m not a soothsayer to predict the future, and neither do I really trust the utilities. So “could” is the proper term, meaning: it has the ability to lower costs, but other realities may occur to keep it from happening.

    Now your red herring. I want to comment on this because I find it one of my pet annoyances in reading the comments here. The use of probabilistic words (e.g., “may”, “could”) in scientific literature is by design. You show me a paper that states “does” and “is” in proving a scientific theory, and I’ll show you a paper you cannot trust.

    The scientific process, by design, cannot prove a theory. However, there is always the possibility it can be disproven. Theories that have never been disproven after a time become accepted. But that does not prove the theory, and the probabilistic words *still* apply.

    Objecting to any paper merely because of the use of words such as “may” and “could” makes the objector sound ignorant of the scientific process. There are many reasons to object to pro AGW papers, but those words are not amongst them.

    Who is to decide what is non critical appliance? Tell me when I decide to enjoy a great music listening session using my 2x1000w amp power to lift Mahler to a new height, this will be an essential part of my freedom to do as I wish in my home, when I feel like it. It may be deemed not essential for some Ontario Hydro bureaucrat but for me it is as essential as food.

    That’s fine. But when the blackouts come, you not only lose your amp, but your lights, refrigerator, perhaps HVAC and the like. Your argument is an all-or-nothing deal. I find that a bit unreasonable.

    Blackouts are the results of utilities limited investments in providing safe, reliable power. To suggest that they should become part of our life unless we all play “greeny does debby” is simply advocating second rate service, thought control.

    I agree with your comments regarding blackouts and limited investments. Personally, I think it silly to invest $700,000,000 in a new generator to assure the 4 or 5 times a year the utility cannot meet peak demand is taken care of; especially if there is a better way to make those assurances at less cost. It makes sense to attempt to average the demand out and avoid that huge investment. But if you want to pay your share of that $700,000,000 so that those 4 or 5 times a year you can blast your amp without interruption, then more power to ya’.

    Your conclusion that smart meters are “simply advocating second rate service, thought control” is of dubious logic, and does not follow from what has been stated. But, believe that if you wish.

  108. To block smart meter data collection, just put a 50Hz notch filter ( also called a “Noise Filter” ) between the smart meter and the utility supply. That way as the smart meters uses frequencies other than 50Hz electricty supply frequency to communicate with the metering people at the untility comapny, then the nose filter will stop commands to and from the meter – no snooping! Probably make the energy comapny cranky too, but hey, they will jsut have to get off their arses and send a human to read the meter…oh the humanity!!

    Or, if they stop you putting in a noise filter, you could install something that will interfere with the command frequencies by drowing the frequencies out ( effectively using a jammer ). However, this may also interfere with other houses too and I suspect the utility nazis will probably jump on you pretty quickly.

    You could install a notch filter/noise filter betyween the meter and the house – that way they cant turn appliances on and off as required in future.

    Alternatively, install photovoltaic cells on the roof and have a chunk of the hosue run off batteries and an inverter – in effect you are energy self sufficient ( oh I love that idea….) and so you dont need none of their stinkin electricity no how….

    Actually, last idea makes more sense to me. You could isolate the metered part of the house from the rest, and it doesnt matter how much they tell your meter to turn stuff off etc, it wont have any impact. Its like telling the untility “we dont need you now ….bye….” …no bills, no snooping….no control over you.

  109. Actually, the more I read about the concept of coiming energy rationing so it supports the huge lie of global warming, themor eI’m convinced we effectively need to declare energy independance by using solar cells to generate our own.

    Then we wont give 2 figs what happens, the govt can switch power on and off as much as they wont, we wont care. Maybe we could even physically disconnect from the grid…..

  110. I think the data is valuable to the power companies for the planning and running of the grid, however its only valuable in agreggated forms. There is no value to them for knowing an individual’s power use (apart from their marketting of course, but thats a different kind of “value” that isn’t “necessary”) and so I think the data should be immediately aggregated to substation level and then deleted.

  111. I am looking forward to my smart meter. It is on my house now but the paperwork said it will be months before I can go online to get reports. I have a large bill. About $300 per month. My neighbors all have bills from $80-$175 or so. My wife thinks it is the greatest injustice to have to turn out the lights. Even when nobody is home. I want to be able to get something to show her what that costs. My bill was actually lower the first month. Not sure why but I imagine it had to due with lost data from riping out the old meter without recording things. I am sure my wife will just say, bill more and spend less time reading “Watts Up With That.”

  112. I am (suppose to) schedule to have mine installed but i keep ignoring them. I have been wondering what might happen if were to remove a microwave emitter from an old unit and tape it to the face and zap it for a few seconds?

  113. Here in Victoria, Australia we have had a smart meter installation roll-out going on for a few years. Initiated by the previous Labor state government it has been quite unpopular with, as in your case, customer have “hobson’s choice” i.e. take it or no power. One of the concerns raised has been the privacy issue you have highlighted.
    According to the Origin Energy web site smart meters are claimed to offer the following advantages:

    *Record electricity consumption in thirty minute intervals;
    *Be remotely read so a meter reader doesn’t have to visit your home or business;
    *Help you to find out how much power you are using and when, allowing you to better manage your own energy consumption;
    *Enable remote connection of your electricity (when you move to a new address);
    *Help distributors detect and locate outages and restore supply more quickly; and
    *Help distributors to monitor and manage the quality of your power supply and to more efficiently manage the electricity network.

    The smart meters installed have the ability to remotely control the power, in our case the device performs the daily switching of our 3.6kW off peak hot water circuit. Presumably it could also be used to disconnect/connect the main power circuit as well and with a bit of reconfiguration high power circuits like air conditioners.
    At present there is a delay in implementing time of use tariffs here following the election of a new Liberal National coalition (conservative) state government late last year.

  114. Just curious, how will the smart-grid/smart-meter handle a situation like this – probable HV transmission line (in the range of 138 KV – 375 KV) short to distribution lines (7 KV to 14 KV), blowing multiple transformers (stepdown 14 KV to 120/240VAC) in neighborhoods in the process:

    .

  115. me says on May 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm:

    To block smart meter data collection, just put a 50Hz notch filter ( also called a “Noise Filter” ) between the smart meter and the utility supply. …

    Not an insignificant task (considering a range of parameters, some safety-related, that would need to be met by this filter); that is also on the utility side of the meter … wouldn’t that normally involve an electrician?

    Also, the circuit will be ‘live’ at this point too … a meter ‘pull’ kills power into the house

    .

  116. Kevin G says:

    Smart meters are just the start. Next there will be stronger determination to gain access to control thermostats within the home. Your energy consumption will be heavily regulated by those sitting in a nice, comfortable office who are part of the system…but do not have to abide by the system.

    This problem goes very deep, to fundamentals of quite a different sort. It is impossible, under utilitarian ethics, to be a part of the system one is controlling. For consider: an average westerner can save the life of a third worlder for a dollar or two: so to do the maximum good, one should work one’s self to death (at an optimally calculated rate) making money to save third world lives. Another example: a doctor cannot be in charge of the ‘hard’ decisions on equipment usage to make the most saving of lives or life time if their own family are amongst the patients. Thus the natural tendency of the ‘elite’ to exempt themselves from the restrictions they impose on others – as we witnessed with the Copenhagen pigs at the trough spectacle. This is one of the issues I discuss at my website.

  117. A lot of people have observed that after these meters are installed their bills go up at least 20%. Investigations, lengthy, tedious and difficult revealed that the meters have a “settable” load factor. I.e it can record greater usage than that actually taken.

    In my mid this is illegal, as it is a statutory fiscal meter. But nobody seems to care.

    Also, as i never watch my existing meter, only check the bill if its high, how can such a smart meter help me control my usage. Thats just hype. The best thing for these, in the USA is a class action suit, damages and get them banned, as they should be.

  118. Dang, always late to the party! And one of the few topics I can state I’ve got great experience in and some expertise. I actually just got home from a conference hosted by a “smart grid” company.

    @Jim, ‘Just curious, how…..”

    In that particular situation, when the transformers on the distribution line blow, the meters don’t fair well. But, devices can be placed for protection at the transformer. I had a discussion with some people from different parts of the country about the reliability of these “smart meters”. In my part of the country, this time of year is always marked by heavy thunder storms. When one rolls through this area, I can usually count on have about a dozen or so that need replaced. (We’re very small, only about 3500 meters.)

    You’re also correct about the “filter”. No utility is going to allow that to be done. And it would be dangerous for laymen to attempt to do such nonsense.

    I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comments, but I’ve seen a few in support of these meters. I’m going to write something of more substance on this issue soon, but I haven’t had the time. Aside from the privacy issue, one should also consider the cost. That is, after all, the alleged motivation for utilities to control usage towards cost control. But here’s a tidbit. PG&E’s own little paper they put out stated the life expectancy of the “smart meters” are about 10 years. My experience says that’s optimistic, but it may be that the climate there allows for such longevity. So we’ll use that number. Smart meters cost about $250/10yrs.(Some prices are going down.) Traditional mechanical meters cost about $25/20yrs.(After about 20yrs, the gears wear down to where they don’t measure the usage properly.) These numbers are for the typical 2S class 200 240volt meter.(The one at most peoples houses.) I’ve often wondered how much peak shaving was necessary to resolve the cost, but I see PG&E didn’t have to do any to start seeing a gain from the investment.

    Of course, I haven’t mentioned the software and other bits of hardware necessary to collect the data. Many utilities have argued that costs can be saved by negating the need for meter readers. This is laughable. The simply moved the meter readers in house, bought high priced servers and gave guys like me a job! You wouldn’t believe the cost of the software. BTW, Anthony is correct. I can print a graph of hourly usage and know when people typically wake up and when they go to bed. I could get reads every quarter hour if I wanted. With ZigBee and other protocols coming, yes, there is an ability to control your appliances. It is my understanding that GE is already producing appliances ZigBee capable.

    How smart are out smart meters? Not very. It was just another charade implemented because of a self inflicted problem. It isn’t that we need to shave our peak usage, it is that we need more electrical generation. No, not the whirlygigs and pinwheels, we need reliable and cheap electricity.

    What many people don’t understand is the cycle the utility business is now on. THIS WILL NEVER END AND WE’LL NEVER REALIZE THE COSTS!
    We had cheap and effective meters. We fixed that. Now, the utility business is on the tech cycle. We all know the tech cycle. That the never ending innovations of modern technology. We started using “smart meters” about 5 years ago. Those meters that we install then are now obsolete. They’ve been replace by meter with more capabilities. The equipment we installed to facilitate the comm is obsolete. And so it goes……….

    One last jewel. At the conference various meter venders were invited to show their wares and participate. I asked several, were there any manufacturers of the electro-mechanical meters in the U.S.? The answer is no. Even if we wanted to, it’s probably too late to stop this madness. (sung) When you leave this way you can never go back, a train wont roll on torn up tracks…….

  119. Neil says:
    May 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Many meters are using wireless transmission, cellular etc. This is because communications access has in the past been a problem. Anyone noticed where most of their communications goes, yes the internet. Eventually these meters will talk directly into an internet connection.
    =====================================
    Perhaps, and they sorta do already. I’m currently using power-line carrier to various metering points and am now using TCP/IP to move the information in-house. As you stated others are using different protocols, but a recent “advancement”, uses a public radio frequency(wireless internet) to form a mesh network and move the data in house in that manner.

    Its a brave new world fellas.

  120. In the UK they go further and are able to stop your supply if they consider your use excessive, their assessment with no input from the customer! This is to cover times when the wasteful wind turbines cannot supply enough power and all our old coal plants are shut down by EU order. The Uk is becoming a third world country with government to match.

  121. Whenever the smart meter gets installed where I live (I don’t have a say), I will be looking for ways to get out from under it.

    In the meantime, I keep my focus on survival. I figure that the high frequency (emf) that these things emit will caused me all kinds of headaches (in more than one way) and so I will be trying out some equipment, like cooks diodes, to help me weather that impending storm.

    When and if they use it to increase my energy bill, I am not at all concerned.
    They already have all the income than can gather from me.

    If they really are going to use this to coerce me to pay higher energy cost then let them try.

    I figure if my money runs out, fine, ….if they don’t want us to have energy, fine,….if they want to keep us from using ‘their’ energy factories (power plants), whatever….
    I am just not afraid ‘of the man’ anymore.

    Too tired to be afraid

  122. There’s another issue with this that hasn’t been discussed much. That being security holes in SCADA software> http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20062425-245.html .

    This is only one example, and as the “Smart” grid/meters become more prevalent, there will inevitably be additional vulnerabilities discovered, and exploited.

    The U.S. government is warning critical-infrastructure operators of a serious hole in software used in oil and gas; water; electric utilities; and manufacturing plants around the world.

    The stack overflow vulnerability affects the Genesis32 supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and BizViz software sold by ICONICS, according to an advisory (PDF) released yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security’s ICS-CERT (Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team). ICONICS has issued a patch to close the hole, which could allow an attacker to remotely execute code and take control of the computer.

    Meanwhile, an exploit targeting the vulnerability was publicly available, the advisory said. To be successful, an attacker would need to use social engineering to lure a user with the “GenVersion.dll” (dynamic-link library) ActiveX control installed to visit a Web page that hosts malicious JavaScript. The dynamic-link library is a component of WebHMI (human machine interface) used in the ICONICS software, according to the advisory, which cited a report (PDF) by researchers at Security-Assessment.com.

    “This vulnerability requires moderate skill to exploit,” the warning said.

    Fifty-five percent of the Genesis32 installations are in the U.S., 45 percent are in Europe, and 5 percent are in Asia, according to Foxborough, Mass.-based ICONICS.

    The advisory comes less than two months after the ISC-CERT and several researchers warned of a handful of holes in different SCADA software.

    Security issues with software used to monitor and control critical-infrastructure systems are cropping up more and more as those systems adopt Web-based technologies that provide channels into previously isolated networks.

  123. James Sexton says on May 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm:

    Dang, always late to the party! And one of the few topics I can state I’ve got great experience in and some expertise. I actually just got home from a conference hosted by a “smart grid” company.

    @Jim, ‘Just curious, how…..”

    In that particular situation, when the transformers on the distribution line blow, the meters don’t fair well. But, devices can be placed for protection at the transformer.

    James, when I ask these kinds of questions, I ask them rhetorically … I am fully aware of what exists, at least in our area, on the ‘distribution’ (as opposed to transmission) side of the line vis-a-vis ‘protection’ (surge suppressors, reclosers et al).

    I’ve seen (and read about) * ‘primary across secondary’ damage in residential situations (to sum it up: everything gets ‘fried’). Presently I am residing in the southern end of the ‘early’ tornado alley (KS OK TX) and still ‘spot’ with our county’s ARES group when the national weather service requests.

    The rarity here is, IMO, a Transmission-Primary (in the range of 138 KV to 375 KV here in TX) to Distribution-Secondary (7 to 14 KV) ‘short’ (in a substation) which caused the ‘lighting up’ of the literally a couple dozen pole (and pad) mounted step-down transformers (14 KV to 120/240V or 440 V 3 ph) out past the confines of the substation and out among homes and businesses in the area.

    Thanks for your input BTW.

    Regards

    *References upon request.

  124. In Australia, a council of Federal & State ministers decided that smart meters could be compulsory, then let each State work it out. In Victoria, they are compulsory. They have provision for load reduction, even cutting off from a central control when regional demand is high. They have made no warranties as to security. The home owner never gets to own a meter, though he/she pays for it on a continuing basis. In this way, it is represented as a benefit for the consumer because it reduces the number of electricity meter readers (but omits that manual meter reading is still done for water and gas, sometimes by a single outsourced company).

    There is a nastiness in the “compulsory” bit. It is hard to conceive of a compulsory requirement that does not involve some form of acquisition from the person getting the rough end of the pineapple. In Oz, the Constitution requires that there shall be no acquisition of property on other than just terms. No terms have been negotiated, so we are potentially seeing a violation of the Constitution.

    Those who have yet to have a smart meter installed are being charged as if they have one, including a 10% goods and services tax. What goods, what services? The utilities claim that they have already expended on computing and hardware for meter development and even though your particular home might not have a meter the utility has incurred a cost. But then, in the absurd case, the development of meters has been going on for a century. Can that cost be back-taxed? I think not.

    Nasty, nasty, nasty. When I said I did not want one, they said they would cease to supply me with electricity. See you in Court, utility.

    The final blow seems to be severe punishments for tampering with the devices, as some above have suggested. Also, I cannot plead trespass if I lock the home security system when the man comes to instal the smart meter. I cannot benefit from self-management of peak rates, because the apartment block has no scope for off-peak use, with instant water heaters etc. To see when spot peak concessions are offered, I have to walk about 50 yards to the communal meter box room on another level and unlock a metal door that hides them from view. That’s hardly an effective feedback.

    Had enough? I’ll break them even if I have to redefine “benefit”.

  125. I was examining in detail the image of the digital electric Smart meter Anthony posted at the top of this blog and noticed a (company) name, as can be seen in this 2X image excerpt:

    I ran “Silver Spring Networks” through an NCIC ‘wants and warrant’ check -er- Google search and indeed, there exists such a company – here is their:

    Silver Spring Networks – About Us webpage.

    On the web page linked below there are accessible resources for viewing ‘white papers’ as well as a Flash Demo about their technology offering, including:

    1) How it works,
    2) Network Provisioning (important info for the power system operator’s staff) and
    3) Outage Detection.

    Tossed in there is also info on their ‘back office’ interface … specifically mentioned is the ability to “remotely connect or disconnect customer service”.

    http://www.silverspringnet.com/resources/flashdemo.html

    James Sexton, you may have some input on this, perhaps after viewing their material.

    BTW, their claim that WiMAX is not ‘quite ready’ is false; WiMAX alive and well and available in a number of cities (via CLEAR) as I write this, including the DFW area. On an expedition with a spectrum analyzer in the car a year ago I verified active, traffic-carrying WiMAX signals in the 2.5/2.6 GHz range …

    .

  126. It’s called the “bologna method”… they take freedoms from us 1 slice at a time and eventually they have taken the entire bologna. But you didn’t notice just one little slice, did you?

  127. Ron Dean :”But arguing that the old technology worked fine thus nothing should be changed, is ludicrous. Using that argument, you should be using a computer build in 1985 with a 100bps modem hooked up to it. Maybe a punched paper tape for external storage.”

    LOL talking about red herring…

    “Second, you raise a classical “red herring” logical fallacy in comparing my statement to “alarmist climate literature”. One has nothing to do with the other in this conversation – however, I’ll address both your inference and the red herring itself.”

    BS, it has all to do with it since this is the IPCC http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ipcc33/SRREN_FD_SPM_final.pdf
    that direct this garbage. As for the “other” events that can prevent my bill to stay low… you truly sound like Ontario Hydro!

    As for the investement for 4 or 5 time a year, this is truly BS: next you’ll claim “who needs roads that are mostly used during the day and not much at night”… or something in this effect…

    Just like the PR of these utility companies, you peddle that stuff with the word “blackout” attached, subtle blackmail.
    EOM.

  128. _Jim says:
    May 13, 2011 at 7:21 am
    I was examining in detail the image of the digital electric Smart meter Anthony posted at the top of this blog and noticed a (company) name, as can be seen in this 2X image excerpt:

    I ran “Silver Spring Networks” through an NCIC ‘wants and warrant’ check -er- Google search and indeed, there exists such a company – here is their:
    Silver Spring Networks – About Us webpage.
    On the web page linked below there are accessible resources for viewing ‘white papers’ as well as a Flash Demo about their technology offering, including:
    1) How it works,
    2) Network Provisioning (important info for the power system operator’s staff) and
    3) Outage Detection.
    Tossed in there is also info on their ‘back office’ interface … specifically mentioned is the ability to “remotely connect or disconnect customer service”.
    http://www.silverspringnet.com/resources/flashdemo.html
    James Sexton, you may have some input on this, perhaps after viewing their material.

    “SilverSprings Networks” or SSN is a specialty company dealing with wireless backhaul data transfer from the meter to the utility. This is one of the proprietary wireless technologies I referenced in my original comment. I have briefly worked with SSN transponders, and as a device, they seem to be about as good or as bad as their competitors.

  129. Ron Dean, any experience with the Landis+Gyr product line, like the FOCUS AX series?

    http://www.landisgyr.com/na/apps/products/data/pdf1/Residential_Brochure.pdf

    I’m assuming the AXR series is the ‘radio’ version, the ones being phased in by ONCOR:

    The “SD” suffix indicating “(remote) Service Disconnect”.

    The GRIDSTREAM RF version: http://www.landisgyr.com/na/en/pub/solutions_na/advanced_metering/rf_technology.cfm

    Any idea what architecture/RF/Wireless technology they offer?

    Full discl. – At one time I was with WebLink Wireless (AKA ‘PageMart’) where we were working to offer wireless data services (telemetry services) using the ReFLEX 25 air interface spec and (Motorola’s) Creatalink 2XT data modules on the NBPCS (901 uplink/940 MHz downlink) frequencies, about the 1999 time frame.

    Creatalink 2XT module – http://catarina.udlap.mx/u_dl_a/tales/documentos/lep/martinez_m_c/apendiceC.pdf

  130. Curiousgeorge says on May 13, 2011 at 5:27 am:

    There’s another issue with this that hasn’t been discussed much. That being security holes in SCADA software> http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20062425-245.html .

    This is only one example, and as the “Smart” grid/meters become more prevalent, there will inevitably be additional vulnerabilities discovered, and exploited. …

    This is going to be interesting; I can already see the same ‘crew’ who reverse-engineered Apple’s iPod/iPhone product turning their energies to ‘observing’ the behavior and habits of their local electric meter and working out 1) the protocol ‘spoken’ back to the office and, eventually, 2) the encryption (if any) used to encode their data packets.

    A device (PC w/outboard USB pod) akin to the ‘blue box’ used by early hackers to ‘score’ on the phone company will eventually be available through anonymous FTP (e.g. 2600.com), bittorrents and P2P sources to emulate the ‘comms, habits and behaviors’ of an electric digital reporting meter …

    Ref, Blue Box – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_box

  131. _Jim says:
    May 13, 2011 at 6:23 am

    “James, when I ask these kinds of questions, I ask them rhetorically ….”
    =============

    Right Jim, sorry for my lack of clarity. I was simply expounding on your thoughts. While these thoughts may be obvious to you and me, it may not be for all of the readers here. As to SSN, I went to their website. They appear to be what I call a “me too” company. They’re not doing things much different than what many others are. They figure out a way to carry the signal into the office and then have various applications that utilizes the data and communications. You’re correct, too, WiMax is being used now. But these are technical points and miss what I consider the greater questions.

    First, we should ask why are we chasing this tech? The answer most likely given would be so that we can curtail peak usage. This is necessary because consumer demand is out pacing production of generation capacity. More likely though, is that we’re simply being more creative in the methods used to control behavior. Here’s why I say that. A follow up question to the first question would be, will these actions be sufficient? The answer to that is “no”. It doesn’t matter what we do, or what our approach is, we’re simply not going to be able to keep up with demand. In the end, to avoid rolling blackouts and rising costs of electricity is to simply build production plants. And, it will necessarily have to include coal and nuke. There is no getting around it. We need to start building and we need to start now.

    For all of the control lost, individual liberties given up, privacy lost, this will culminate in nothing but hirer costs to the consumer (with more novel ways to bill the consumer) and only perhaps a momentary delay in the inevitable. It is extremely clear that this neuvo-technology will be paid for by the consumer. PG&E has clearly demonstrated the utilities have no intention on sharing in the costs.

    Not all “smart grid” technology is bad though, much of what we’ve learned can be applied to very useful purposes. Outage managment, for example has made great strides and will continue to do so. Mapping and engineering also have made great strides, though costs continue to be problematic.

    All of this will continue. Much of this discussion is moot in that the train has already left the station and it isn’t coming back. As to your liberties and privacy, its almost too late. We need to raise our concerens in a collective voice. Its not like the people weren’t told. I wish things were different, but they’re not.

    James

  132. _Jim says:
    May 13, 2011 at 10:02 am
    Ron Dean, any experience with the Landis+Gyr product line, like the FOCUS AX series?
    http://www.landisgyr.com/na/apps/products/data/pdf1/Residential_Brochure.pdf

    I’m assuming the AXR series is the ‘radio’ version, the ones being phased in by ONCOR:

    The “SD” suffix indicating “(remote) Service Disconnect”.

    The GRIDSTREAM RF version: http://www.landisgyr.com/na/en/pub/solutions_na/advanced_metering/rf_technology.cfm

    Any idea what architecture/RF/Wireless technology they offer?

    Full discl. – At one time I was with WebLink Wireless (AKA ‘PageMart’) where we were working to offer wireless data services (telemetry services) using the ReFLEX 25 air interface spec and (Motorola’s) Creatalink 2XT data modules on the NBPCS (901 uplink/940 MHz downlink) frequencies, about the 1999 time frame.

    Creatalink 2XT module – http://catarina.udlap.mx/u_dl_a/tales/documentos/lep/martinez_m_c/apendiceC.pdf

    I have worked with L+G’s Focus AX series in the past. The model numbers are:

    Focus AX – Also called the Focus AXD. Base demand meter. AMR (Automatic Meter Reading), but no database functions.
    Focus AXT – A Focus AXD with Time of Use functions (ability to have different rates for different time frames)
    Focus AXR – A Focus AXT with data recorder. This adds load profile capability.

    The “SD” suffix is, as you have stated, for “Service Disconnect”.

    The AMR functions are via a serial port communicating to an adjunct transponder. I know L+G has some of their own transponders (as you have shown with their “Gridstream” line, that also has a “Power Line Communications” or PLC device), but I have not really worked with theirs, so I can’t really comment on their architecture. They partner with other transponder companies such as SSN and Aclara to provide backhaul communications.

    Once a utility decides on an infrastructure for backhaul, they generally want to stay with it. Consequently, for L+G or other meter manufacturers to sell into existing utility markets, they must try to support the existing backhaul network – thus the reason they work with the external transponder companies. The offering of their own backhaul line is primarily to be able to offer a full solution – but meters are their bread and butter and their backhaul offerings are a pull to sell more meters, particularly in emerging 2nd world country markets.

  133. The purpose of these meters is not to control when you use electricity – – it is to make possible “peak hour” pricing, so you can be charged more per kilowatt if you use your electricity at the same time everyone else wants to. That is, when it is most convenient or desirable to the consumer to be consuming the product.

    So obvious as to almost defy mention.

  134. _Jim says:
    May 13, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Curiousgeorge says on May 13, 2011 at 5:27 am:

    There’s another issue with this that hasn’t been discussed much. That being security holes in SCADA software> http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20062425-245.html .

    This is only one example, and as the “Smart” grid/meters become more prevalent, there will inevitably be additional vulnerabilities discovered, and exploited. …
    [i]
    This is going to be interesting; I can already see the same ‘crew’ who reverse-engineered Apple’s iPod/iPhone product turning their energies to ‘observing’ the behavior and habits of their local electric meter and working out 1) the protocol ‘spoken’ back to the office and, eventually, 2) the encryption (if any) used to encode their data packets…………………………….[/i]

    I assume you mean interesting in the Chinese curse sense? ;) Yes, indeed.

  135. Sarge says:
    May 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    So, will a Faraday cage block the backhaul functions?

    If the backhaul is wireless, sure it will. But you can expect a visit from a utility service tech pretty quickly. And you can expect the utility to be quite unhappy about unauthorized installations on what they claim as their equipment.

    If the backhaul is power line communications or another wired external communications network, then a Faraday cage won’t make any difference.

  136. Ron Dean says:
    May 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Focus AX – Also called the Focus AXD. Base demand meter. AMR (Automatic Meter Reading), but no database functions.
    Focus AXT – A Focus AXD with Time of Use functions (ability to have different rates for different time frames)
    Focus AXR – A Focus AXT with data recorder. This adds load profile capability.

    The “SD” suffix is, as you have stated, for “Service Disconnect”.

    I should have mentioned that there is no hardware difference between the different Focus AX models. The ToU and load profile features are all software enabled. So even if a meter says Focus AX, it could be running as a Focus AXR due to firmware upgrades.

    The service disconnect feature though does require a hardware/mechanical addition. Therefore if the meter is not marked “-SD”, it probably does not support service disconnect.

  137. Smokey on May 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm
    Sarge on May 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Pls pay attention; an actual ‘Faraday screen’ or shield shown about 2/3rds of the way down this page (as labeled):

    http://www.w8ji.com/skindepth.htm

    Use of a Faraday Shield to prevent detuning of an oscillator coil:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=e_oZ69GAuxAC&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137&dq=induction++%22Faraday+shield%22+detuned&source=bl&ots=vXmF1ohP5u&sig=LIvvr79RGmotjfvXI3CbDw5Cqdk&hl=en&ei=wN6qSv7hKdDqlAff5YjmBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    Gentleman, the term you want is EM (Electro-Magnetic Shielding), not simply E-field shielding as a so-called, much-over-used, usually mis-applied Faraday screen term implies. (This is a CLASSICAL case of a little knowledge being dangerous …)

    .

  138. Jim,

    Thanx for the info and links. [Actually, I was just looking for an excuse to post that cool pic.]

  139. For those people wishing to find ways to block the signal. Don’t bother. Of course it can be done, regardless of the method used, but, as Ron Dean states, you will recieve a visit from the utility company. You’ll be offered a choice. Accept the communication or go without electricity. If you want to stop this, you’re gonna have to organize and present utilities (and lawmakers) a singular voice. And you’re going to have to provide realistic alternatives to what they are trying to accomplish. It won’t be an easy fight and time is short. As I stated earlier, much of this can’t be undone. No one is making the traditional style meters anymore. The capabilities are there. It is up to the public now to discern whether they will be implemented or not.

  140. Public pressure on politicians since these utilities here in Canada are crown corporations. Oh and I forgot the selling point from BC Hydro: it will stop the theft of electricity from grow-ops… which we know are the best export of BC… LOL
    Oh and the “potential” savings are about half billion in the next 20years while the goons already spent that much in 9 years promoting conservation while filling up the coffers of Hoggan public relation company, chairman of the Suzuki Foundation, a wonderful organization that gets lots of funding from the US http://fairquestions.typepad.com/rethink_campaigns/david-suzuki-foundation-70-million.html

  141. Re _Jim says:

    This is going to be interesting; I can already see the same ‘crew’ who reverse-engineered Apple’s iPod/iPhone product turning their energies to ‘observing’ the behavior and habits of their local electric meter and working out 1) the protocol ‘spoken’ back to the office and, eventually, 2) the encryption (if any) used to encode their data packets.

    Take a look at this presentation from 2009

    http://data.proidea.org.pl/confidence/6edycja/materialy/prezentacje/CONFidence2009_nick_de_petrillo.pdf

    Security on these kinds of networks is pretty much weak by design. They’re cheap, mass market and use COTS components, many of which have existing security problems such as WiFi as a transport. Because they’re mass market, key management is often weak so key extraction can become easier allowing hackers to ‘own’ or abuse large chunks of the network. Meshing networks may just make it easier to spread attacks.

    Naturally the utilities will claim they’re secure even when security researchers point out the vulnerabilities. In the small print of consumers contracts, there will no doubt be language limiting or trying to deny any liability for any losses if smart meters are abused. They also won’t prevent fraud if hackers can playback normal looking usage profiles, or solve BC Hydo’s problem that TomRude mentions. A meter reader with a nose is probably better for detecting grow-ops than a smart meter.

  142. @ Atomic Hairdryer says:
    May 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Re: smart meter/grid security. If you go to http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/ (Run by Peter G. Neumann for a very long time. Techies will know who he is. ) and search for smart grid , or similar keywords it will return several comments and presentations on this issue. It’s not a new issue, but it seems that hardly anyone is paying attention in the rush to get this deployed as widely as possible.

  143. Atomic Hairdryer says onMay 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm:

    Take a look at this presentation from 2009

    http://data.proidea.org.pl/confidence/6edycja/materialy/prezentacje/CONFidence2009_nick_de_petrillo.pdf

    A consultant’s #1 job is to secure more ‘job’. This is done a number of ways, with FUD and the prescription for ‘constant vigilance’ being two ploys …

    Security on these kinds of networks is pretty much weak by design.

    1) Addressed in Reference A (below) under:

    “Myth #1: Nobody’s paying attention to security.”

    2) Any more (or less so) than security technologies used every day on the public internet (like HTTPS)?

    They’re cheap, mass market and use COTS components, many of which have existing security problems such as WiFi as a transport.

    Addressed in Reference A under:

    “Myth #4: Wireless networks lack security and are easy to hack.”

    Because they’re mass market, key management is often weak so key extraction can become easier allowing hackers to ‘own’ or abuse large chunks of the network.

    1) Addressed in Reference A under:

    “Myth #4: Wireless networks lack security and are easy to hack.” and

    2) Addressed in Reference B (“Commissioning a new meter” procedure)

    Meshing networks may just make it easier to spread attacks.

    Addressed in Reference A under:

    “Myth #5: Cracking one meter provides access to the entire smart grid because everything is interconnected.”

    Naturally the utilities will claim they’re secure even when security researchers point out the vulnerabilities. In the small print of consumers contracts, there will no doubt be language limiting or trying to deny any liability for any losses if smart meters are abused. They also won’t prevent fraud if hackers can playback normal looking usage profiles, or solve BC Hydo’s problem that TomRude mentions. A meter reader with a nose is probably better for detecting grow-ops than a smart meter.

    No more (or less) secure than the IP security protocols in use today vis-a-vis HTTPS/SSL?

    The rest is standard legalese …

    In regards to keys and cryptography in general: If you’re not using one time pads, it’s a matter of time before you’re hacked … but, that may, and depends on, that ‘time’ being a long time (relatively speaking) to the scenario in which then cryptography is being employed … that, and balanced against the ‘worth’ of hacking a scheme or a ‘gain’ of minimal value.

    – – – – – – – – – –

    References:

    Reference A

    Reference B

    1) Choose “Network Provisioning” on the left.

    2) pay attention to the procedure used to ‘commission’ of a new meter, involving a series of steps along with a ‘parallel path’ for making the system aware of the new meter via interaction via the installer and the platform his work orders are handled on.

  144. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for those references. I have to say that SSN is being a bit disingenuous with this claim:

    Myth #2: the smart grid makes it easy for hackers to cause widespread blackouts.
    The smart grid is designed to link together various devices for ease of management and operational
    control. This architecture actually makes it easier to put a variety of checks, limits and restrictions at
    multiple points throughout the network.

    SSN makes it sound as if smart meters increase security from the stated threat. This is just not true.

    If there was no smart grid or smart meters, the only threat that would exist is a physical one. Just introducing communications enabled devices into the grid, no matter how secure they may be, introduces a risk of being hacked. So how it is “easier” to “put a variety of checks, limits and restrictions at multiple points throughout the network” when compared to simple mechanical meters is beyond me.

  145. Re _Jim says:

    A consultant’s #1 job is to secure more ‘job’. This is done a number of ways, with FUD and the prescription for ‘constant vigilance’ being two ploys …

    True to some degree. I’m a consultant specialising in the design of secure networks so know a lot of the tricks of the trade. Conversely, a suppliers job, like SSN’s is to claim their network is secure and limit any liability if it isn’t. Standard way to do this is via white papers like the one you cite. That paper makes some misleading claims. For example:

    “Mitigation: The inherent security of frequency hopping spread spectrum counters this threat, while data encryption adds another layer of confidentiality protection”

    This may sound impressive, especially when combined with the previous explanation that FHSS ” changes the channel from 50 to 100 times per second, making it difficult to lock onto”. That’s talking about IEEE802.11 FHSS and what it doesn’t tell you is devices have to maintain sync so hop in a pattern programmed into the devices. Access to the devices allows that to be extracted, or you’d have to do it the harder way by sniffing data and figuring out the sequence. The more data and devices, the easier it is to capture data and do this, and there are tools to help. Another disadvantage of FHSS is because the hop pattern has to be known to the devices, there is less device interoperability. That’s useful if you’re a vendor wanting to lock a customer into a particular hardware ecosystem though. FHSS is also less bandwidth and spectrum efficient, which may cause some problems depending on how heavily the spectrum it’s using is being used by other things.

    Mitigation: Cryptographic authentication combined with protection mechanisms for data at rest can combat credential compromise by ensuring that the credentials are confidential and communication can occur only between authenticated, trusted components

    The paper mentions encryption and certification several times but fails to mention where the keys are stored. They’re in the meters and can potentially be recovered as several security researchers have demonstrated. Then communications would still be authenticated, and appear to be from trusted components. Recent example of this false sense of security is the way Blu-ray was reverse engineered and master keys recovered leading to older Blu-rays being copyable and requiring devices to be re-keyed. If you lose control of the network though, OTA updates won’t work and suppliers would have to manually update or replace meters.

    Myth #2: This architecture actually makes it easier to put a variety of checks, limits and restrictions at multiple points throughout the network.

    The choice of architecture makes it necessary to do that to try to protect the network. That adds costs and complexity and increases risks to the network compared to classical ‘dumb’ meters. Introducing remote disconnection may be a desireable feature for loss reduction but only if it’s the supplier doing the disconnecting. If it’s not, it may lead to compensation claims.

    Taking out smart meter readers also introduces other risks. A smart meter reader may notice dodgy looking wires coming off the supply side. Or funny herbal smells. Or if it’s rolled out to gas networks, gas leaks. A meter reader noticed a small gas leak from my neighbour recently, a ‘smart’ meter probably can’t do that.

    Myth 5, well, that one depends on what you attack. It sets up a strawman buy suggesting attacking a single meter can compromise the network and says “for example, two operators must work in concert to initiate system-wide commands (this is also known as “two-party control”)”. Compromise the operator creds and you own the whole network.

    The biggest myth the paper perpetuates though is Myth 3. “First used in the 1970s,
    IP is a mature, robust protocol suite that offers numerous security mechanisms.” The standard TCP/IP protocol suite offers precisely zero security because it was never designed to be secure. Additions to that suite like IPSec, HTTPS etc have tried to correct this.

    It’s a nice paper to give people a false sense of security. Alternative papers such as the one I gave, or the Cambridge research mentioned earlier, or the discussions on comp.risks may provide a different perspective.

  146. Atomic Hairdryer says on May 14, 2011 at 4:01 am:

    The paper mentions encryption and certification several times but fails to mention where the keys are stored. They’re in the meters and can potentially be recovered as several security researchers have demonstrated. …

    Bzzzzt!

    Caught/detected by:

    a) ‘intrusion detection’ functions (becoming more and more common in equipment designed with some level of security in mind) and

    b) the unit will be incommunicado WRT infrastructure pings (this will be noted and logged and is either a sign of an ‘outage’ or a security compromise) during the disassembly and subsequent physical procedure of hacking (EEPROM contents inspection, powering/unpowering the controller, applying the usual bag of ‘tricks’ to get the CPU to possibly come up in an altered state as part of “the attack”); powering the unit back up (they are designed to be ‘always powered’) is going to raise flags … esp. when neighboring units/meters in the area (on the same distribution and/or secondary 120/240 line) didn’t go down (these are some of the aspects so-called security experts and consultant don’t seem to address: the bigger, complete picture rather they focus on the unit itself and stress it’s limitations.)

    Overlooked in all this is the minimal value of the comms (the content thereof) that one is endeavoring to intercept (the little data payload) and limited authority a ‘hacked’ meter is going to have in an application like this as well … the meter won’t (shouldn’t!) have much ability to raise havoc/control or inquire into the upper/deeper levels of the AMR/AMI system.

    Recall these aren’t comms to/from a foreign embassy with potentially high value content, but lowly, electric power ‘usage’ dumps … security need really only be to the level needed … tampering is still going to leave a trail, with busted/removed physical security rags (like as used now on mechanical meters) with the addition of internal ‘memory’ of events and supervision control messages (including alerts and warnings) to/from the power provider via communications infrastructure …

    .

  147. Ron Dean says on May 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm:


    If there was no smart grid or smart meters, the only threat that would exist is a physical one. Just introducing communications enabled devices into the grid, no matter how secure they may be, introduces a risk of being hacked. So how it is “easier” to “put a variety of checks, limits and restrictions at multiple points throughout the network” when compared to simple mechanical meters is beyond me.

    Hi Ron.

    Part of the response to this was to A. H. D. (look at that acronym!) above, specifically, the level of security required in the actual meter need only be to a particular level … it certainly needs to be _beyond_ an easy hack, like say an over-the-air protocol that uses say, simple FSK mapped one-to-one to a 300-baud, 8-bit no-parity (with a start-pulse) asynchronous serial data stream straight from a PC’s serial port!

    We should all bear in mind these aren’t comms to/from a foreign embassy with potentially high value content, but lowly, electric power ‘usage’ dumps … security need really only be to the level needed … tampering is still going to leave a trail, with busted/removed physical security rags (like as used now on mechanical meters) with the addition of internal ‘memory’ of/for events and supervision control messages (including alerts and warnings) to/from the power provider via communications to the infrastructure which is part of, and integral to, the overall security of the system (hacking, power own of the unit raises suspicion).

    True story – in my youth, I thought I had figured out the simple and ubiquitous POTS line the phone company had installed throughout the land … I thought I was ‘clever’ enough even to simulate the dial pulsing by hand even though I seemed to have a low ‘success rate’ (misdialed calls) in dialing … well, it wasn’t but a week or so and a representative from The Bell Telephone Company paid a visit to our house … this was in the day before even the last mechanical cross-bar switches were in operation and probably still in the day the ‘stepper’ style of telephone switch (still in the era of the electromechanical and analog telephone switch) yet they had the ‘supervision’ capability to detect and track down ‘malformed’ dial pulsing entering the facility!

    So, to, will they be able to detect hacking and other probes back ‘upstream’ from the lowly service/electric meter which is bestowed with intentionally limited access to info and data further upstream.

    .

  148. Re _Jim

    a) ‘intrusion detection’ functions (becoming more and more common in equipment designed with some level of security in mind)

    Indeed. The meter shown has a tilt detector and capacitors to do ‘last gasp’ transmissions if there is a power outage. When power is restored, how could you be sure it’s still an I-210, with it’s original code? In addition, the SmartMeter can detect and report exceptions for the following tamper events: number of Demand Resets, Loss of AC power and reported power outages.

    b) the unit will be incommunicado WRT infrastructure pings (this will be noted and logged and is either a sign of an ‘outage’ or a security compromise) during the disassembly and subsequent physical procedure of hacking

    True, it can be set for polling down to 5-min intervals. That may or may not be enough time to replace or rewrite the meter with new firmware. But then if alarms are tripped after missing a single poll, the alarm centre is likely to get very busy. Especially given the amount of WiFi devices around and potential congestion. Or even due to global warming based on an earlier story.

    You’d also not need to hack a live meter. You could just buy one. I couldn’t see any I-210’s on ebay at the moment but there’s a couple of L+G’s for sale. Or you could steal one. Or you could privately rent a holiday home for a couple of weeks and experiment there. Or you could just download the firmware. Doing proof of concepts is fairly easy, as security researchers have already demonstrated. Problem is still using a wireless network vulnerable to man-in-the-middle monitoring and attacks, and installing millions of low cost devices in untrusted locations. Standard revenue protection measures would still work, ie you’re billing less than consumers are using. But then you have to find the hooky meters. Meter readers could perhaps be useful for that, but they’re being replaced with ‘smart’ meters complete with 3.3v TTL interfaces to reprogramme them. And it’s being done to increase customer’s energy bills, or inconvenience them by load shedding, so providing additional motivation for fraud. Not to mention the potential ability for script kiddies or other criminals to remotely disconnect people.

    How does any of that benefit the consumer?

    Of course suppliers could reassure consumers by agreeing to liability for any loss or damages caused by 3rd parties getting smart with the meters. They don’t, so what does that suggest about actual security?

  149. Mods, the corrected post …

    Atomic Hairdryer says on May 14, 2011 at 4:01 am:

    There are a number of other holes in your arguments or points that were brought up that I just hadn’t had time to address … this seeks to remediate that.

    Conversely, a suppliers job, like SSN’s

    Bzzzt!

    Grainger is a supplier, as is and Mouser and DigiKey.

    SSN develops/engineers/creates whole products, per their About Us descrip: “We provide the hardware, software and services that connect every device on the smart grid, creating a unified Smart Energy Platform.”

    is to claim their network is secure and limit any liability if it isn’t.

    On a par with observing “The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening”. Nothing new; issuing verbiage to up the word count.

    Standard way to do this is via white papers like the one you cite. That paper makes some misleading claims. For example:

    “Mitigation: The inherent security of frequency hopping spread spectrum counters this threat, while data encryption adds another layer of confidentiality protection”

    A true statement (all after “Mitigation” that is).

    This may sound impressive,

    A judgment call; not an observation even.

    especially when combined with the previous explanation that FHSS ” changes the channel from 50 to 100 times per second, making it difficult to lock onto”.

    Extracted from a sentence which began: “RF spectrum jamming and jabbering at the RF level are countered by use of frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS), which changes the channel from 50 to 100 times per second, making it difficult to lock onto.”

    FHSS or, more to the point DSSS does offer those two benefits, and is far superior to single fixed carrier using say GMSK modulation … so, what is the beef?

    FHSS/DSSS is par for the course these days with the benefits as stated.

    That’s talking about IEEE802.11 FHSS and what it doesn’t tell you is devices have to maintain sync so hop in a pattern programmed into the devices.

    Standards-based, which it looks like this product appears to be, already should detail what is necessary as to ‘hop’ (spreading code) .

    Access to the devices allows that to be extracted, or you’d have to do it the harder way by sniffing data and figuring out the sequence. The more data and devices, the easier it is to capture data and do this, and there are tools to help.

    See above.

    Another disadvantage of FHSS is because the hop pattern has to be known to the devices, there is less device interoperability. That’s useful if you’re a vendor wanting to lock a customer into a particular hardware ecosystem though. FHSS is also less bandwidth and spectrum efficient, which may cause some problems depending on how heavily the spectrum it’s using is being used by other things.

    See above; Also, more confusion, as there always seems to be, by non-RF savvy personnel between DSSS and FHSS.

    For me, FHSS is _not_ ‘spread spectrum’, therefore, it is only FH (Freq Hopping)

    Hint:

    If your receiver_IF_BW = data_rate it’s Frequency Hopping

    If your receiver_IF_BW = chip_rate it’s Discrete Sequence Spread Spectrum

    (Note: Chip rate will be greater than, say, 10x data_rate)

    IF = Intermediate Frequency
    BW = Bandwidth

    Mitigation: Cryptographic authentication combined with protection mechanisms for data at rest can combat credential compromise by ensuring that the credentials are confidential and communication can occur only between authenticated, trusted components

    The paper mentions encryption and certification several times but fails to mention where the keys are stored. They’re in the meters and can potentially be recovered as several security researchers have demonstrated. Then communications would still be authenticated, and appear to be from trusted components. Recent example of this false sense of security is the way Blu-ray was reverse engineered and master keys recovered leading to older Blu-rays being copyable and requiring devices to be re-keyed. If you lose control of the network though, OTA updates won’t work and suppliers would have to manually update or replace meters.

    Recovery of keys brute force method will trigger Intrusion Detection as spelled out in a prior post; not repeated here.

    Also, any encryption technique can be broken w/o direct access to the hardware, given enough time and a couple other parameters (like the message being known), save for one-time pad techniques.

    Myth #2: This architecture actually makes it easier to put a variety of checks, limits and restrictions at multiple points throughout the network.

    The choice of architecture makes it necessary to do that to try to protect the network. That adds costs and complexity and increases risks to the network compared to classical ‘dumb’ meters. Introducing remote disconnection may be a desireable feature for loss reduction but only if it’s the supplier doing the disconnecting. If it’s not, it may lead to compensation claims.

    ANY system requires these types of security considerations; of course that includes cellular … e.g. access to the HLR (subscriber database), the SWITCH itself (system/cell site parameters, neighbor cells for hand-off), etc

    Segmentation of (job) responsibility works towards mitigating most all of this (nothing will ever be perfect in human security)

    Taking out smart meter readers also introduces other risks. A smart meter reader may notice dodgy looking wires coming off the supply side. Or funny herbal smells. Or if it’s rolled out to gas networks, gas leaks. A meter reader noticed a small gas leak from my neighbour recently, a ‘smart’ meter probably can’t do that.

    Now we’re crossing into a new area; should be addressed separately (law enf related subject); leaking nat gas should be reported by property owners …

    Myth 5, well, that one depends on what you attack. It sets up a strawman buy suggesting attacking a single meter can compromise the network and says “for example, two operators must work in concert to initiate system-wide commands (this is also known as “two-party control”)”. Compromise the operator creds and you own the whole network.

    The “Myth 5″ strawman is one set up by others, one of six this paper addresses as myths.

    For the balance of the post see ans 2 blocks above this one (internal company controls as they regard personnel for ‘security’ are not under discussion).

    The biggest myth the paper perpetuates though is Myth 3. “First used in the 1970s,
    IP is a mature, robust protocol suite that offers numerous security mechanisms.” The standard TCP/IP protocol suite offers precisely zero security because it was never designed to be secure. Additions to that suite like IPSec, HTTPS etc have tried to correct this.

    Re-read that sentence.

    On second thought, let me help you:

    “First used in the 1970s, IP is a mature, robust protocol suite that offers numerous security mechanisms.”

    Notice the comma (I bolded it for you)? The above statement, BTW, is true.

    Newsflash: The security ‘design’ focus has changed WRT to Internet Protocol (IP) in the last, what, twenty years?

    It’s a nice paper to give people a false sense of security. Alternative papers such as the one I gave, or the Cambridge research mentioned earlier, or the discussions on comp.risks may provide a different perspective.

    http://www.silverspringnet.com/pdfs/SilverSpring-Whitepaper-SmartGridSecurity-MythsReality.pdf

    I would suggest you read the balance of that paper, commencing with page 5; Those folks aren’t hiding much that I can see (although implementation details remain undiscussed as they are competition-sensitive and so I’m sure you won’t see them spelled out in a white paper by SSN or by anybody else in industry.)

    Also note that various ‘eggheads’ in industry (and in tightly focused groups like comp.risks) do a good job of addressing individual-unit ‘weaknesses’, but tying these small units into a much larger system with active feedback (e.g. active periodic pings and heartbeat pings) and ‘supervision’ work to clean up and minimize these perceived weaknesses …

    To their credit and very much on the upside, they are emphasizing the use of IP security measures, measures that have received some of the most intense scrutiny of any protocols on the planet.

    .

  150. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on many of these points. We could probably argue all day about whether SSN is a supplier, systems integrator or whatever. We could debate the merits of DSSS vs FHSS and why if it isn’t using FHSS, the whitepaper chose to use that description.

    Ultimately it’s all about the risks, costs and benefits. Time will tell who’s right about that. We ‘eggheads’ will carry on warning about vulnerabilities and risks, and hope we’re proven wrong. There’s still good money to be made fixing networks that were sold secure, and found wanting. Personally I’d much prefer not to do that, but it pays the rent.

  151. Hi chris y, we are in northern Canada (around 55 degrees north), so we run a big system, definitely bigger than what you need in Florida. We have a 24 volt system with battery bank that can store 2400 amp hours. The dollar value would be lower for you also, with the exchange rate. Depending on the size of your family (we are 4) and lifestyle, you could probably run a system half the size (and half the cost).

    We installed the system ourselves with the help of an electrician friend to do the wiring in the house, so the $25000 for the system does not include installation, but that is the total cost (panels, solar inverter with charge controller, battery bank, materials). Our area is among the highest in Canada for electricity charges; in 2008/09 we were paying about $2500 per year.

    We have reduced our consumption somewhat (mostly in winter months). We now run a gas dryer and oven/stove. In the next couple of years we plan to also convert all of our appliances to high energy efficiency (i.e. fridge, deep freezer). We no longer leave the computer or satellite receiver on unless we are using them (huge electricity vampires). Overall, just more conscious of turning off lights, etc.

    Because of where we live, daylight hours are shorter in winter, thus we must periodically run a generator to charge the batteries. You won’t have that problem where you are, but it might be necessary for ongoing cloudly weather (i.e. more than three/four days depending on your system). If 100% off the grid you would probably want to have a back-up generator anyway.

    The other 9 months of the year are simply fabulous. Today we made over 17 kw hours of electricity, more than we could possibly use in one day. Conservation becomes a non-issue, as we could literally run every electrical appliance in the house all day long and would still be storing the extra volts into our batteries. We are also never impacted by storms and power outages, relatively commonplace in our rural neighbourhood.

    Cheers

  152. Sorry, that is $2500 per month for electricity, not $2500 per year.

  153. lol, no $2500 per year, I must be tired, $2500 per month would be a bit expensive

  154. Anyone can walk up to your meter and read it, do you really think it has ever been secure? Its the same information the utility has been getting. Meter number and readings.

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