Smart Meters: Money Savers or Security Zappers?

January 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Energy, Energy Audits, Front Page, Slideshow

Smart meters send the electric company real-time data from your personal energy use. Photo: Intelligenter_zaehler via Creative Commons

Smart meters send the electric company real-time data from your personal energy use. Photo: Intelligenter_zaehler via Creative Commons

Remember reading 1984? Big Brother watched everyone, 24/7. Even people’s thoughts were monitored. Orwell’s novel painted a chilling portrait of a dystopian world no reader (I think that’s pretty safe to say) wanted to inhabit.

As writer Sean Derrick points out, we’re currently on that slippery slope where monitoring people’s minute-by-minute activities is presented as normal and “good.” Yet, to Sean and others, it feels more than a little creepy. What do you think?  — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Smart meters, devices that help consumers (and power companies) track real-time energy use, were implemented to help consumers build awareness about their energy consumption so they can make informed adjustments if necessary.

That sounds well and good — until we consider how they invade our privacy. As the use of these devices continues to see rapid growth, the privacy implications associated with their installation and usage is becoming evident. Real-time meter readings reveal how people live in their homes, tracking their daily routines, as well as changes in daily routines.

The US alone accounts for the installation of over 36 million smart meters in 2012, while the figures in the EU see huge growth. This is a result of the push to meet the EU’s mandate to have 80 percent of all households receiving this technology by the year 2020.

They’re Watching You

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Here’s how smart meters break this law:

1. Your personal living pattern is recorded.

Everything that uses electricity within your home is monitored and, therefore, your activities are monitored. The arming and disarming of your security system as well as the opening and closing of your garage door would indicate when you leave or arrive home.

Your time on the computer is also monitored as the meters are able to report when you go on, how long you spend and when you get off. Bear in mind that the power companies are able to monitor the meters from the comfort of their office and disconnect or connect your lights.

So, a smart meter can be considered as a type of surveillance device.

2. They see when your appliances are turned on and off.

Smart meters seem to have been designed to transmit data in real time. The question that comes to mind is why are the meters transmitting the customer’s power consumption information on a per-minute or per-hour basis rather than a running total sent at intervals?

3. Smart meters measure the amount of power used by your individual appliances.

It is said that every appliance carries its own energy fingerprint/appliance load signature. If this is the case and smart meters read these fingerprints, then whoever had your household’s data would be able to formulate an exact idea of what appliances you use and the frequency with which you use them.

Aside from the utility companies, those who would benefit the most from getting their hands on the data supplied by smart meters include law enforcement and insurance companies. Such detailed information would definitely serve well for a number of stakeholders. But at what cost to your privacy?

Sean Derrick

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Sean Derrick enjoys finding innovative ways to save householders on their energy bills. His articles mainly appear on environmental blogs. Visit to learn more about metering options.