Categories
Blog

Your meter is watching you ! Reality or fantasy?

Your meter is watching you. Reality or fantasy?

We can hear here and there that smart meters could be a breach into our private lives and that, especially through the analysis of electricity consumption, it would soon be possible to spy all our moves. Reality or fantasy?

Electricity meter manufacturers, an industry usually quiet, are in turmoil. In less than 10 years, more than 400 million smart meters will be installed around the world. It is a necessity for balance and management of transmission and distribution of electricity but also a challenge for an industry unknown of the general public.

Thus, the electrical meter, billing instrument hidden in the shadows of our basement, is poised to become a central communication gateway between consumers and utilities.

Like any new communication medium, it raises hopes, fears and finally fantasies.

What are the real communication capabilities of smart meters?

Smart meters include, besides the classical metering parts, an electronic communication component ensuring the transfer of measurement data to hubs located upstream of the network in substations. These long-range communications use physical layers like radio or PLC, IPv6 or proprietary transport layers and metering application profiles like Zigbee Smart Energy 2.0 or DLSM/COSEM.

These communication layers were primarily defined to meet the technical constraints of protocols, security and data rates set by energy operators and not at all according end users needs.

No wonder that, compared to some smart objects around us, like cellular phones or computers, these smart meters are very poor communicators:

  • very high latency of at least a few seconds.
  • bandwidth of a few kB/s (Linky G1, narrowband PLC) to tens of kB/s (Linky G3 or long range radio) in the best case.
  • built-in memory only for the storage of information such as tariffs, load curves recorded once a day, every hour or, at best, every 30 minutes for a few dozen curves a day and for a limited period of time.

When it comes to communication capability, the privacy threat therefore seems very weak. If we look in contrast to the data collected, the problem remains.

Indeed, except the question, still poorly addressed by legal authorities, of who owns the data and with what security, there is the problem of its exploitation. The fear that comes up most often is the belief that one could be able to determine the behavior of subscribers only by analyzing their load curves.

Let’s take a closer look.

If it is indeed possible to extract information from the load curve, like of course disaggregated consumption accumulated over a certain period of time, do not imagine predicting what people are exactly doing at a precise moment. Indeed, many usages such as heating, HVAC, refrigerators, are independent of the instantaneous behavior. And for those who reflect our actions, switching light in the first place, but also starting using some appliances, they are very difficult to detect in a load curve sampled every second and virtually impossible with a 30 minute sampling rate. In addition, a low energy profile does not mean you are not at home neither a high one means you are having a party with your friends !

In addition, current disaggregation algorithms use the whole 24 hours duration of the load curve and are therefore not suitable for real-time identification.

An black-hat hacker could one day hack your meter but will be quite unable, with only a load curve sampled every 30 minutes, to immediately determine your presence or your absence from home.

Conclusion: the fear of smart meters is more a fantasy due to the lack of information than a reality. Its denial, however, is real and is mainly due to the poor education programs delivered by utilities. The smart meters are often imposed to consumers and this without any actual perception of significant added values. This leads to fears, amalgams and exploitations by all types of opponents (the largest in bad faith is the so-called danger to the health of the radio waves emitted by PLC meters that produce, however, far less radiation than any cellular phone).

Finally, if the point is to raise the fear of being monitored, why not then discuss first the communication technologies we’re breathing in, such as smartphones or computers, which collect far more information about our privacy that will never be able to collect our electricity meter.

If you’re looking after Big Brother, don’t look in your electric meter; search first in your cell phone or in your computer.

Paul Bertrand*
SmartFuture.

* In early 2000, Paul was the first to develop and patent an algorithm of load curve disaggregation able to identify nearly 80% of the electricity consumption of housings.
This algorithm used a 24 hours load curve sampled every 0.5s.

Categories
Blog

(Français) Innovation et PME: réalité ou alibi politique ?

Sorry, this entry is only available in French.

Categories
Blog

Is your washing machine “soluble” in Smart Grid?

Do you have any idea of your washing machine energy cost? No?

Don’t worry; you are not alone, because only a few people know it, really, today.

But is this the right question?

Many years ago, when the kWh cost was known and represented the biggest part of your electricity bill, the cost did not really matter, because we had to do laundry anyway. At most, an informed housewife started her machine after 10 pm to take advantage of off-peak hours.

Those early days will soon be over. Thanks to smart grid, home automation, smart metering, variable costs, voluntary or monetized shedding programs improving grid constraints, all of it combined with in-home displays, the housekeeper will soon receive a message on his mobile advising the best possible time slots for its washing day.

Alas then, the right question in the near future could be: At what time will I finally be allowed to wash my clothes?

Fortunately, it is unlikely for this scenario to happen.

First, either because the dream of a stupid and pervasive home automation invasion could fail in front of householders’ closed doors, or, second and more likely, because the electrical equipment manufacturers will eventually take this unique opportunity to make their products more communicative and thus more intelligent.

Whirlpool, but also some others, is already leading the way with its “Smart Appliance” program. It seeks to develop and market home appliances connected to a radio network and controlled by software to optimize their operation and consumption, as well to integrate them into demand-response programs in connection with utilities.

Finally,

washing your clothes could become easier and less expensive. And it’s actually your washing machine (and not yourself) that will know exactly the best time to start washing, and at what price. In this optimistic future, hopefully coming soon, we will simply put laundry in the machine, and later in the evening or the next day, we will receive a notification from the washing machine, telling that the laundry is now ready to be picked up and that the electricity cost of the cleaning was $2.5, which, by the way, was the best possible price that day/week.

We have to hope that the need of energy savings and the expected growth of smart meters, will push appliance manufacturers to quickly switch to the era of communication and thus greatly increase the usage value of their products. One condition however for this to happen, is that standards and communication technologies get advanced enough for this industry, deemed to be one of the most conservative and conformist in the world.

No doubt, smart meters deployment success all over the world, will also depend on the capacity of appliance manufacturers to design smarter appliances more integrated in smart grid communication networks.

Paul Bertrand.

Categories
Blog

The Home Energy Controller War will not take place.

At least not right now…

Increasingly, the Green ecosystem, announces that “Domotique” in France, the Home Energy Management HEM in the United States, will soon invade our homes to bring us the happiness of both modern comfort and energy frugality required to save our planet.

Indeed, there is not a single day when we read that companies such as Silversprings Network, Trilliant, Digi …  for the United States, Ijenko, Vity, lifedomus, Actility or Schneider Electric for France, driven by the announced arrival of smart meters, are finally ready to market their famous Home Energy Controller !

Actually, I think we are still far away of that cool invasion. The main reason is that manufacturers deliberately ignore some key parameters, since they rather prefer to be the first to introduce products in the market.

First

Facts are persistent, the link between smart meters and home automation control equipment is not for the moment clearly established. Jesse Berst from Smartgridnews.com says : “HEM is only going on in 1% of North American homes (even though 25% of North American homes now have smart meters).

Then the business model remains to be invented:

  • Many of the systems proposed, not yet integrated within the online services offered by existing operators are charged for their sole usage value. The cost then becomes critical, killing the decision to purchase. Many startups have died, and others will disappear, for this reason.
  • It is not clear that many households invest more than $/€ 100 for an in-home energy display which, in the life of the current sensor battery, will probably never earn as much! How, then, imagine buying a full HEM costing more than €/$ 1,000 with accessories and adding the cost of installation and commissioning!

Last but not least, the hardware is not ready:

  • Interoperability of standards, a mandatory requirement for development of the service industry and low-cost production of components, is late and poorly accepted by most industry leaders in place who see it as a threat to their own business.
  • The high power appliances like heating, water heater, air-conditioning and lighting are, in most cases, only measurable in the electrical panel. The sensors are not only not really Plug & Play enough but also need to be installed by a qualified electrician. We are far from the business model preferred by French Telco’s sending by mail their Internet gateways.

Conclusion

The kick-start will probably come from:  1- more integration into existing multimedia services, 2- standardized technologies independent of proprietary industry, and 3- technological innovations tremendously lowering costs and improving the ease of use due to an enhanced appropriation of technology by individuals.

The Home Energy Controller War is coming but has not yet really started.

Paul Bertrand

Categories
Blog

Welcome to the SmartFuture Website!

Welcome in the Website of SmartFuture

After spending years leading a technology startup, here I am again at the start of a new venture. I created SmartFuture to help corporate decision-makers to answer this question: “In an ideal world, a consultant who can help me define my innovation strategy could also understand the technological problems of my company. But that does not exist, right? “

Well, I hope you will find in these pages some answers to this question. Paul Bertrand.

Categories
Non classé

SmartFuture homepage

Welcome!

After spending years leading a technology startup, here I am again at the start of a new venture. I created SmartFuture to help corporate decision-makers to answer this question: “In an ideal world, a consultant who can help me define my innovation strategy could also understand the technological problems of my company. But that does not exist, right? ”

Well, I hope you will find in these pages some answers to this question.