Data privacy takes center stage

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It's clear that two of the biggest buzzwords at this year's DistribuTECH conference are "privacy" and "data security."

With many utilities moving past the beginning stages of AMI deployment, they are realizing the process goes far beyond simply installing new meters and communication systems. True AMI goes much deeper than simply getting an energy use reading and billing.  Realizing the true potential of smart grid takes data management, and both utilities and vendors are working to scale these new challenges.

But with over 2.5 Quintillion bytes of data created every day, its a daunting challenge, to say the least.

The primary goal is building customer trust and confidence through transparency and true data privacy standards. Trust fosters engagement -- something utilities desperately need from their customer base. And so the discussions at DistribuTECH are all about making data security and privacy happen on purpose, not by accident.

One of the biggest champions of this is Dr. Ann Cavoukian, who is promoting the notion of "Privacy by Design", the notion that utility systems should be built around privacy and incorporate it from square one.

Speaking at DistribuTECH, she said that it's impossible to know the infractions of the data that is out there in the world, but that Privacy by Design is a preventative, proactive way to try and deal with privacy harms.

"What's the point if being smart about everything and not embedding it into our systems?" she said.
She also outlined the seven principles of the program, which include:

  • Preventing the harm proactively
  • Developing privacy as the default setting for AMI systems
  • Privacy embedded in smart grid design
  • Full functionality while maintaining privacy
  • End-to-end security and full lifestyle protection
  • Visibility and transparency
  • Respect for user privacy

With no national standard on energy use data privacy, it will be up to individual utilities to take charge. As always, California utilities are at the front lines of this initiative, with San Diego Gas & Electric and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District both making customer and grid security priority.

"If we do [cyber security] really poorly, we may never recover," said Paul Lau, assistant general manager of power supply and grid operations at SMUD.

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