The government has announced the results of its consultation with the public and other interested parties on plans for "smart" energy meters to be installed in all British homes and businesses. The most controversial aspects of the devices - the fact that they will effectively allow remote control of a home by energy companies and/or the grid authority - have apparently passed unchallenged.
Many of the proposed capabilities of smart meters, to be universally installed by 2020, are relatively uncontroversial. The devices are to be networked back to grid authorities and supplier companies, allowing an end to visits for meter readings and much simpler billing operations for energy firms. They will also be able to join a home network, allowing separate displays elsewhere in a house and/or the monitoring of energy use on other devices such as home computers, phones etc. The machines will be run like Sky or TiVo boxes, under remote control from outside the home - users will have no control over them.
Real time power monitoring like this already rings some alarm bells - it will usually be possible, for instance, to use such data to tell if people are in or out, and perhaps other details such as what TV programmes they like to watch, how many hot drinks they consume, whether they cook with a microwave or an oven etc. Such information is significant in a privacy context, and valuable in bulk to marketing organisations.
But this pales into insignificance compared to the more radical ideas. The smart meter is also supposed to enable remote cut off or restoration of supplies - though there has been a row over the cut-off valve which would be required in the case of gas, and the government says it will have another think before deciding on that.
Apart from being able to turn a house off and on remotely, however, the unspecified people who control the "meters" from afar will also have other capabilities. Specifically, the boxes will have "load management capability to deliver demand side management - ability to remotely control electricity load for more sophisticated control of devices in the home".
"Demand management" is industry code for power rationing or cuts. "Controlling load", as the consultation says, is a matter of turning things on or off, up or down. Quite bluntly, this is not a meter - it's a remote-control device in charge of your house, and potentially of everything in it.
According to the consultation response issued yesterday:
The Government therefore confirms the proposals [as described]. The Government will take a final decision on the gas valve issue once the further assessment work is complete.
You can read full details - and further plans to make the grid itself smart - here. ®