Dec 27, 2011
Over the last few weeks I have been discussing the issues and concerns about OG&E’s smart meter rollout with a gentleman with an extensive background in areas relevant to smart meters/smart grid in order to better understand the technology, specifically the technology being used by OG&E in its implementation of the Positive Energy® Smart Grid program.
This gentleman is an electrical engineer and published author with dozens of patents in digital communications and network storage. He is the founder, contributor and executive for multiple hi-tech companies including an internet company and he has decades of service to his credit on National Standards Committees. He does not wish to be personally identified at this time so I will refer to him simply as a “consultant” Due to the nature of his work, this consultant also has more than a passing familiarity with business law and also property and intellectual rights which adds considerable dimension to the discussions regarding the smart meter program in Oklahoma.
OG&E’s Positive Energy® Smart Grid program stresses that it is “in partnership” with OG&E’s customers, however, many customers that I have spoken with do not think that they are in any way being treated as “partners” with OG&E. The reason why is both obvious and likely responsible for much of the ire that has been raised by the installation of smart meters by OG&E-the customer has absolutely no say so in the matter. There are no options for OG&E customers, they must accept the new meters which enable two way communications between consumer’s meters and the utility.
The authority for mandating the installation of the smart meters, according to Kenneth Grant, Managing Director of Positive Energy® Smart Grid, comes from rules promulgated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission
I will be posting more information gathered in my correspondence and discussions with my consultant but for now, the basics.
Here is his explanation on how OG&E’s system works followed by what the consultant believes to be the issues of greatest concern.
The network that the utility uses is composed of several layers. The collection layer is called a “mesh”. Each meter on each home is both a send and receive radio.
Your information is broadcast to all of the homes in your surrounding neighborhood for a radius that can sometimes exceed a mile.
Other homes pick up your information and pass it along. Multiple homes will receive your information and your home will likewise receive the information from multiple homes. The intent is to create a redundant “net” of radios that relays information to a central hub, where it eventually is transmitted to the Utility’s central servers over a combination of microwave transmitters and Fiber.
Every home is required to have a meter that contains a 900 MHz radio and a 2.3GHz radio. Those radios are always on in listening mode. OG&E’s implementation will transmit data from each home at least once every 4 hours, and as often as once per hour.
It is not the aims of OG&E that our consultant takes issue with so much as the means in which the utility has chosen to accomplish those aims.
I agree with the ability of the utility to be able to transfer ownership, do load-based billing, pre-paid billing, etc. and to manage their network remotely. However, the means that OG&E has chosen to employ is invasive and tramples on individual property and privacy rights.
Smart Meters do not have any inherent money or energy saving abilities. They are touted as being effective due to their ability to help customers monitor their energy usage and make behavioral changes based on that data. However, as the consultant explains, it is the utilities that are the most obvious beneficiaries of the cost cutting benefits of smart meters.
According to the consultant; The major advantage of the smart meter is not that it allows customers to save energy – it does not. It saves the utility millions of dollars in payroll to read meters, it allows them to charge different rates depending on the time of day that electricity is being used, and it allows them to turn meters on and off remotely without a physical visit to the home. . . It appears that this cost savings is the principle costs savings to the Smart Meter program.
The consultant identifies the following as the most pressing issues and concerns regarding OG&E’s smart meter/grid rollout;
1) Utility companies are essentially government sponsored monopolies. In Oklahoma there is oversight by the commission, but the commission operates independently from the legislature. That allows policy to be made without public review. I find that to be dangerous.
2) A consumer needs reasonable property rights to prevent the utility from forcing him/her to submit to RF as a term of service (there are solutions like the one that OEC uses that do not require that)
3) A consumer should have reasonable rights having to do with the amount of personal information that is transmitted to the utility. If you are billed once per month, they should only be allowed to read it once per month. This is a huge privacy issue. Someone privy to that information can discern a great deal of personal information about the individual. Primary consideration from a theft perspective is knowledge of whether is someone is normally at home during the day, on vacation, etc.
4) A consumer should have rights against being into becoming a part of the utility information network. Current implementation by OG&E as I understand it forces the homeowner to receive and pass along information from other consumers in the area. That is done without the consumer’s knowledge or consent. It is like being forced to allow the utility access to your property to read your neighbors meter, or being forced to be a radio transmitter without your consent.
5) The use of the 900Mhz and 2.4Ghz frequencies for data transmission. The OG&E meters have radios that are capable of picking up use on those bands. That information could be used to detect when TV remote controls are being used, garage door openers, internet, cordless phones, and even TV remotes. That is not the intended use, but the capability exists within the meters.
Essentially, even though every person that uses radio will guarantee that their network and information is safe and invulnerable, the only real way to protect personal information is to not collect it at all.
6) The meters have the ability to upload new code remotely, so their functionality can be changed at any time by an authorized individual, or potentially by a hacker without the homeowner’s knowledge
In addition, this consultant raises some concerns about the vulnerability of OG&E’s smart meters to electronic attacks.
Are smart meters secure from electronic attacks?
No. At least not the ones being used by OG&E. No wireless electronic device can be secure from electronic attacks. Just as no mechanical device can be secure from an explosion. The issue with electronic attacks is that they are often undetected and can also cover a very large number of devices simultaneously.
Electronic attacks can take several forms.
(a) Direct interception of data
(b) Hijacking data input or output
(c) “Man-in-the-Middle” attacks
(d) Hijacking of the meter and re-programming
(g) Ability to monitor several properties electronically to check for patterns indicating no one home during the day or vacation mode.
Most important, even if the data transmission itself is secure, the data will eventually reside on a server somewhere. Servers containing banking information and credit card information are routinely hacked. Utilities are hacked. Satellites are hacked. Military drones are hacked. The only information that cannot somehow be compromised is information that is never transmitted or stored.
More to come….