In the US, the philanthropic non-profit Sloan Foundation has awarded US$48 900 in funding toward a university research study looking at data privacy regarding smart meters and smart energy devices.
The study led by two researchers at Syracuse University in New York, is aimed at addressing the perceived privacy risks of smart energy devices that collect and transmit data to the utility companies that install them.
The funds provided by the Sloan Foundation, will enable the professor and associate dean for Research Jason Dedrick and professor and interim dean Jeffrey Stanton, to add more geographical regions with additional utility regulatory environments, and an array of other smart devices to the study.
Examining consumer perceptions
The study entitled, “Data Privacy for Smart Meter Data: A Scenario-Based Study” examines consumer’s attitudes towards data privacy – specifically – how smart meters collect consumption data and how utilities use that data.
Barring the fact that smart meters deliver several benefits related to automated meter reading and billing, outage detection, and matching power supply and demand, the study notes that consumers still have concerns around the privacy of the collected data, and what it might reveal.
Research also indicated that users of smart energy devices are also concerned about how their data is stored and used.
In order to test the levels of concern that consumers may have, researchers Dedrick and Stanton are creating realistic scenarios using focus groups and questionnaires to gauge which issues consumers classify as privacy risks. Thereafter, they will assess the degree of concern related to the various types of data collection and data breaches.
The scope of the study will extend to evaluating how utilities currently protect consumer data and how well those practices and policies correspond to users’ privacy concerns. The study currently focuses on the Central New York area, but with the aid of the additional US$48,900, will expand the data privacy study to include Northern California, Houston and Michigan’s Detroit/Ann Arbor areas.
Professor and associate dean for Research Jason Dedrick said: “Going to the other parts of the country makes sense, since we can see how people in other places see privacy under certain conditions, especially people who have had a lot of experience with smart meters.
"We’re going to have much richer and more useful findings because we’re able to extend the project like this.”
Dedrick added that the study will evaluate additional electrical devices used in homes such as smart thermostats, smart lightbulbs, refrigerators that can be controlled remotely, electric cars and solar panels, as consumers are interested in seeing the data that these devices collect.
“In the past year, even since we started the project, there’s really been an explosion of interest in these smart devices in some parts of the country.
“Just focusing on the meter seemed limited because the ways data is being measured, communicated and shared with people has grown a lot. Given the way these technologies are going, it made sense that our study should capture that,” said Dedrick
Based on the results of the consumer focus groups, the researchers plan on formulating appropriate policies companies can implement and then get utilities’ feedback.