Wireless smart meters criticized for invading privacy, starting fires

Smart meters, which enable utilities to communicate wirelessly with home energy systems, are being criticized for invading home owners' privacy and, in some cases, starting fires.

Utilities across the U.S. and Canada are deploying smart meters in the homes of customers. The utilities argue that smart meters improve the efficiency of energy delivery and consumption, as well as eliminating the cost of manual meter reading.

However, some groups are arguing that the amount of information being collected through smart meters invades the home owners' privacy. Information collected in real-time includes the home owners' daily schedules and personal behaviors, as well as the types of appliances, entertainment systems and medical equipment they use and at what times of the day they use them. This information could be sold to third-parties or stolen by cyberthieves, warns a report [.pdf] by the Congressional Research Service.

In addition, smart meters made by Sensus have been overheating and catching fire, prompting some jurisdictions to suspend deployment and begin removing them, reports Greentechgrid. At the end of July, Portland General Electric said it was replacing 70,000 Sensus smart meters after reports of three fires, and SaskPower, the government-owned utility in Canada's Saskatchewan province, said it was removing 105,000 Sensus smartphone meters after receiving eight reports of meters overheating, with some catching fire.

These and other issues have spurred growing opposition to the deployment of smart meters. For example, consumer advocates in Massachusetts are calling for an audit of National Grid's smart meter pilot program out of privacy, safety and cost concerns, reports the Leominster Champion.

To encourage consumers to switch to smart meters some utilities have begun charging extra for manual electric meters. Baltimore Gas and Electric not only charges a fee for customers who opt-out of the smart meter program, but also those who have inaccessible meters and have refused to replace them, the Baltimore Sun reports.

For more:
- check out the CRS report [.pdf]
- see the Greentechgrid article
- read the Leominster Champion report
- check out the Baltimore Sun report

Related Articles:
Could utilities throttle your electricity like Comcast throttled BitTorrent?
Increasing cyber threats spurring 29.4 percent CAGR in smart grid cybersecurity market, says TechNavio
Big data's impact on utilities: from smart grid to soft grid