Concerns About OG&E SMart Meters: Privacy, Security, Reliability

Kaye Beach

Jan 5, 2012

Last week I told you that I have been learning as much as I can about OG&E’s smart meter rollout from conversations with a gentleman that has an extensive background in areas relevant to smart meters/smart grid.  Let’s just call him ‘Stephan’.  Stephan 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.

A smart meter is usually an electrical meter that records consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes.[7] Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system. Unlike home energy monitors, smart meters can gather data for remote reporting. Such an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) differs from traditional automatic meter reading (AMR) in that it enables two-way communications with the meterFrom wikipedia

In Pressing Issues About OG&E’s Smart Meter Rollout, I hit on some of the most obvious concerns about this program and covered where the authority to force consumers to accept the meters come from.  The authority for OG&E to implement the system on each home  is derived from, not from state of federal statute, but from rules promulgated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission

There is no federal mandate that requires that smart meters be installed.  However, relevant federal law does favor smart meters, smart grid, time based pricing by providing grants to states incentivize adoption of smart meters/grid.

Smart grid has been a priority of the Obama administration. The Department of Energy awarded 100 grants totaling $3.4 billion for smart grid projects. Many of them have been used to install smart meters in states like California, Texas, Maryland and Connecticut.  http://business380.com/2011/11/21/alliant-midamerican-in-no-rush-to-embrace-smart-meters/

This is true in Oklahoma as well. 

The primary reason given for OG&E’s desire to move forward with the smart meters was plainly stated to be mostly due to the availability of millions in federal stimulus funds.

Some customers believe the Corporation Commission allowed OG&E to jump too quickly for the carrot dangled by the Department of Energy to the detriment of their captive ratepayers.

There are a variety of technologies available to the utilities that can be used  to operate the smart meters but OG&E picked the more privacy invasive of these technologies.  Stephan contrasts OG&E’s choice of technology to that of the OEC (Oklahoma Electric Cooperative) which is not as privacy intrusive as that of OG&E.

OEC, explains Stephan, does not use an RF “mesh” to transmit data to the utility.  Instead, it uses existing power lines to transmit signals.  He explains that with OG&E’s system 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.

Unfortunately, we do not have the option of voting with our wallets.  If you are an OG&E customer, you are stuck with the new digital meters.

I asked Stephan to look at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s ‘Commonly Asked Questions About Smart Meters’ document and see if he agreed with the information provided.

Here are some of the major disagreements with the document that Stephan outlined for me.

Do Smart meters relay my personal information?

OCC says;

No. No personal information is displayed on the outside or contained in the new meter. Your account number, address, and personal information are never transmitted by the meter. Smart meters relay a code that is associated with your account along with usage information on a 15 minute interval. The data transmitted by the meter is also encrypted for your protection.

Stephan says;

Yes.

Every data transmission from a Smart meter to the utility contains an identifying meter number.  That meter number is uniquely attached to your account, so every transmission from a Smart meter contains personal information.

Any information that contains an identifying number is classified as personal information.  That includes your social security number, your driver’s license number, your employee badge number, your license plate number, and in this case, your Meter number.  There exists a database which links the meter number with name, address, useage, payments, etc.  While that database is not publically accessible, there are numerous instances where databases and servers have been hacked.  It is Naïve and Foolish to believe that any database is totally secure.  Even if great lengths have been taken to protect the data as it goes into the database, there is no way to protect the data from those that actually control the database.  Databases can be hacked from the inside as well as the outside.

Are smart meters secure from electronic attacks?

The OCC says;

Yes.

Security is of concern to the Commission when considering Smart meter projects. To date, the programs approved have been subject to extensive third party testing. Again, it is also important to remember that no personal or account data is transmitted by the Smart meter.

Stephan says;

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

(e)  Viruses

(f)   EMP

(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.

Stephan adds and answers an important question not addressed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s FAQ.

 What are the security risks of Smart meters?

1.                   Data interception and decoding by hackers. There is no such thing as a secure wireless network.  There are many techniques to capture data, decrypt it and analyze it.  The “mesh” network is particularly insidious from a security standpoint because any person in the area, in a home, a car, or business can monitor hundreds of homes simultaneously.  Hackers are remarkably adept at obtaining tools, and radios that operate on the 900 MHz band are readily available.

2.                   What else operates on the 900 MHz band?  Garage Door openers, TV and satellite remotes, Cordless phones, WIFI.  The meter radio is always on and will detect activation of any consumer device within the home.  It may not be able to decode it, but consumer devices have signatures that can be used to locate proximity and timing.

3.                   Viruses.  Viruses are devious pieces of software that are usually undetected during normal operation, but that activate based on specific criteria.  The Smart meter contains downloadable code capability, which means that the software that operates the meter can be updated over the wireless network.  A sufficiently sophisticated virus could cause all meters to shut down at a certain time on a certain day, for example, and then not turn back on again.  The utility company would have to manually repair or replace every meter in the entire network one by one in order to restore power.

4.                   The expected service life of these meters is in the range of 20 years or so.  It is naïve to believe that decrypting technology will not exist within that timeframe that will expose the network and every homeowner to serious and irreparable harm.

Will smart meters let the utility or other entities know what appliances I am using or what television programming I am watching?

[I am not aware of any allegation that smart meters allow your television programming to be monitored and neither is Stephan.  We will overlook that apparent red herring and just address the real issue of whether or not the new smart meters can enable the utility or others to discern what appliances are being used by the occupant. kb]

The OCC says;

No. Consumer privacy is very important to the Commission. The Smart meter only transmits total power consumed in 15 minute intervals. While advanced Smart meter systems that track “per appliance” usage will be available in the future, the program will be voluntary and will only show the power consumed.

But Stephan says;

Yes. 

Even if an appliance doesn’t send a signal to the smart meter directly, the energy used by each appliance has a signature that can be identified.  Think of being able to know which of your neighbors is driving down the street based upon the noise of their car.  With a little experience, you can detect the sound of the muffler or breaks.  You can tell the difference between a motor cycle and an automobile and a Semi-truck by the way they sound.  Likewise, a great deal of information can be inferred about an appliance’s use by looking at a residence’s electrical profile.

The profile is essentially a summation of all of the current being used by all of the appliances and you can easily break them apart and figure out which appliance is being used.  For example, a refrigerator operating in a fixed temperature environment when no one is at home will cycle on and off at a predictable frequency.  It is just a motor that draws a fixed current for a period of time.  Likewise, an air conditioner will cycle for a period of time, then turn off, then cycle again.  The A/C will cycle more frequency as it gets hotter outside and there is more heat loss from the residence.  If a set-back thermostat is being used, then A/C profile will look different.  When the temperature is raised by the set-back thermostat, there will be a long delay without the A/C cycling.  It will then cycle periodically throughout the day.  When the set-back thermostat adjusts the temperature to cool the residence in preparation for the family’s return, there will be an unusually long cycle while the house cools down.  An oven or stove has an identifiable profile as do most appliances – even televisions and washers and dryers.

Hence, by knowing the profile of the energy use, a great deal can be inferred about the occupancy of the home.  Likewise, comparing energy profiles from day to day, an analyst can easily tell if the residents are on vacation and have turned the A/C up to save energy.

Stephan explains that, the goal of the Smart grid is to makes consumer’s consumption dependent upon the weather.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the sound of that.

Here are the facts.

1)      Our energy comes from 2 sources – electrical plants and renewable sources such as windmills and solar cells.

2)      Renewable energy sources are very unreliable.  They are highly dependent upon weather patterns.

3)      One of the objectives of the Smart Grid is to make consumption more closely match variable generation.  In other words, the power that you are allowed to use depends on the weather.

Stephan explains further that, power plant construction has been severely curtailed and it takes approximately 11 years to build a coal-fired power plant.  A great deal of money and effort over the past few years has gone into “green energy”.  However, as utilities are now discovering, because the energy is unreliable, it cannot replace power plants.  The goal of the Smart grid is to makes consumer’s consumption dependent upon the weather.

The true cost of windmill and photovoltaic energy has never been reasonably figured into the cost equation.  According to OG&E’s estimates, up to 40% of the power generated by windmills is unusable because it is not consistent.  Any person that has even looked at a PhotoVoltaic off-grid system understands that the photo cells are only a part of the cost, there is also the cost of energy storage in the form of batteries, and a back-up generator for periods of extraordinary use or cloudy days.

In short, renewable energy sources can be a small supplement for energy use, but can never be depended upon for normal production.  It does not save the building of power plants as those plants will need to be built anyway for periods when the wind isn’t blower or there are cloudy days.  The cost of renewable energy is actually several times more than the capital costs of installation divided by the energy produced as you still have to have a backup power source.

OG&E has already deferred the building of one new power plant.(the stated goal is to defer two plants)

Reducing Peak Demand to Defer Power Plant Construction in Oklahoma


 Are we setting ourselves up for exactly what Stephan is warning us about; that our power will become dependent on whether or not the sun shines or the wind blows?

He warns

“There is a law of unintended consequences.  Whenever a monopolistic enterprise attempts to enforce a specific solution on the populace without the self-correcting action of the free market, or tramples upon the right of privacy or consumer choice, there will be consequences.  They may be political, sociological, medical, financial, or can contribute to the loss of life and liberty.  It is our duty to find solutions to our problems that do not infringe upon the liberties of the individual or the sanctity of the home.”

In the next article I will cover some of the possible unintended consequences of the Smart Meter/Grid system that OG&E is currently implementing as well as some specific legal issues that must be addressed.

18 responses to “Concerns About OG&E SMart Meters: Privacy, Security, Reliability

  1. Lots of interesting info here, thanks.

  2. One more comment, and I’ll go for the day. I know these smart meters carry our personal information. I was home the day the company came to my house to set up the GPS on the meter.

  3. Must-See 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters

  4. Excellent Video and very true. The Oklahoma Corp. Commission has given all authority to our public service companies and have denied us the right to OPT OUT. You can send a letter to the OG&E and ONG telling them to remove the meters, but they won’t. However, they are to report all complaints to the Commission’s Public Utility Division. I wonder if they are doing this? Just in case they are not, why not send a copy of the letter direct to the OCC. That way we know a complaint has been filed. By the way, after reading the 21 pages in the Final Order Appoving Joint Stipulation and Settlement Agreement for approval to OG&E to use smart meters, there is no mention of possible health concerns, 1 mention of
    privacy issues, which was dismissed immediately as “not a problem” and one mention of enviornmental concern. Did you know by installing the smart meters they are helping our environment by removing 131 vehicles? What about all the RF they are introducing into our environment? We the consumers are having to pay up to $366.4 million for these meters that we didn’t need and most won’t want when they know all the facts. How many of you are using OG&E’s website that cost approx $2.3 million? It’s designed to help us cut our bills. Has it helped you yet?

  5. Justice, I spoke with Ken Grant a couple of weeks ago and he says that there have been app. 200 complaints lodged with OG&E relating to smart meters. We should be able to get that information from OCC. It is filed quarterly. I think it is a good idea to file with both though.
    You are absolutely right about health and privacy concerns not being a part of the discussion or decision to implement the system. I am upset that in all of the documents I have read from the OCC regarding this program that the concerns of the customers were not represented.

    No matter how I look at this, it does not seem right.

    By the way, I asked Ken Grant if OG&E would consider an opt out for anyone, under any circumstances and his answer was apologetically, essentially no.

    I will be writing more on my discussions with the representatives of OG&E soon.

  6. We need an opt put of these. Our health has quickly diminished since ours was installed. I looked up health information on these devices and it seems other people have the same symptoms as we do. This is a tragedy against us. I called OG&E and the corporation commission they quickly informed me that there is no opt out. Oklahoma needs to pull together and do as other towns have done and force them to opt out. The the World Health Organization has classified non-ionizing radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”- smart meters. PG&E customers have the option now to opt out because of community action. We have to do something.

  7. Send a letter of complaint to Dana Murphy at the OCC. Many of us have already done this, Concerned Mom. Make sure the children are not sleeping close to the wall where the smart is placed. A test I saw done in CA indicates frequencies of this type can affect us up to 400′. I heard Chlorphyll will help detox the body. Take antioxidants. I use GIA wellness products to help neutralize the effects.

  8. It is known that glucose metabolism and calcium channel functions are altered on the cellular level by the non ionizing radiation of smart meters and cell phones ( EMF RF) I doubt there is any detox that can change those facts. As with asbestos and cigarette smoke, non ionizing radiation usually takes a long period of time to show up as cancer and heart disease and diabetes.

  9. So Oklahoma has no opt-out? Isn’t that special?

    Does one have to rearrange the bedroom so that the headboard of the wall doesn’t “face” the neighbor’s smart-meter? Or is that five, six – ten feet space enough?

    Watching California and New Mexico (and even Victoria, Australia) with the smart-meters, this isn’t good. It’s all about control.

  10. There is a 92′ area of immediate danger. Yes, it is about control. Send a letter of complaint to the OCC and ask for an opt-out option.

  11. I am working with State Sen. Files here in Arkansas to get as much information as I can about OG&E’s smart meters… your video help, do you know who the manufacturer of these meters is? I would like to try and follow the money trail… any help would be appreciated. to freedom.

  12. OG&E sent me a letter after complaining to them that I did not want the smart meter. In the letter Abbey Campbell says that the meter manufacturer is GE.

  13. You’re friend Stephan is wrong about why they are doing this. Has nothing to do with weather. They are trying to get as many of their customers to stop using peak power as possible so they can sell that access power to other providers at a ballooned rate.

  14. There is so much mis-information in the above that I can’t begin to address it. Who really cares enough to try to decode the information, determine what the power signature of your refrigerator is, and do anything about it. If someone wants to know about my refrigerator all they have to do is call me. About remote control, smart meter/smart thermostat systems can report, can shut down remotely (saving labor for new occupancy, etc.) but they cannot turn off a specific electric applicance. On the other side of the coin, the OG&E website is useful because it allows you to determine how much power an appliance is using (you have to turn one on and off and look at the website) and extrapolate from there), and decide whether it is worth the price to use the appliance at a given time. I have prepared a spreadsheet we use here in the house that tells us the cost per hour for each major power consuming device, and for each major power cost. Works just fine for us.

  15. We have moved out of our home. First we rufused the meter and two people tried to connect meter departed unsuccesful. They returned without any notice and slapped it on without any my knowledge. We are living in a 32 foot Travel Trailer that was not connected to a smart meter until 2 weeks ago. My wife now is once again feeling the pains of the Dirty Electricity that this meter emitts even in the 32 Ft TT. We have requested a hearing with the OCC and awaiting for a date. We do not think this will make a differents but will try anyway. My wives doctor has written a letter requesting OG&E to take the meter down immediately or this could cause grave danger her. These agencies do not care. The next step is the news channels. We have one station that will interview us about this story. First we want to go to the hearing first with OCC after OG&E refused to even listen to us. Both OCC and OG&E are going to be looking at a law suite if this meter is not removed. My grandkids just lay around no energy and complainning of ear pains all the time. They have not considered the high sensitive to EMR before installing these death machines. Furthermore my wife cannot even go to church, grocery store or work without intense headaches, burning in various organs and so much more. Her life is over as we had known it in the past. Here is the bill:
    42 USC § 17381 – Statement of policy on modernization of electricity grid
    Current through Pub. L. 112-123. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)
    It is the policy of the United States to support the modernization of the Nation’s electricity transmission and distribution system to maintain a reliable and secure electricity infrastructure that can meet future demand growth and to achieve each of the following, which together characterize a Smart Grid:

    (1)Increased use of digital information and controls technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric grid.

    (2)Dynamic optimization of grid operations and resources, with full cyber-security.

    (3)Deployment and integration of distributed resources and generation, including renewable resources.

    (4)Development and incorporation of demand response, demand-side resources, and energy-efficiency resources.

    (5)Deployment of “smart” technologies (real-time, automated, interactive technologies that optimize the physical operation of appliances and consumer devices) for metering, communications concerning grid operations and status, and distribution automation.

    (6)Integration of “smart” appliances and consumer devices.

    (7)Deployment and integration of advanced electricity storage and peak-shaving technologies, including plug-in electric and hybrid electric vehicles, and thermal-storage air conditioning.

    (8)Provision to consumers of timely information and control options.

    (9)Development of standards for communication and interoperability of appliances and equipment connected to the electric grid, including the infrastructure serving the grid.

    (10)Identification and lowering of unreasonable or unnecessary barriers to adoption of smart grid technologies, practices, and services.

    Paragraph 8 should get your attention.

  16. David Brooke

    So we will see you all Wednesday, 1:00pm at the Jim Thorpe building. 2101 N. Lincoln, Okc.,Ok. for the Sherry Lamb public meeting with the Oklahoma Corporate Commission.

  17. This is interesting and thought provoking information. I suppose I would take it more seriously if there were not so many grammatical errors. I mistrust anything or anyone who cannot accurately communicate cogent thought in their argument. Even this reply has spell check embedded. Why didn’t the author use it?

  18. I am not a writer by trade and am admittedly terrible at editing my own work. I agree with you that typos and errors do not inspire confidence and that such thing do matter.
    I proofread this article again and did not find a misspelling but did find some mixed up and missing words.

    Appreciate the feedback even if it stung a bit. Perhaps I will start reporting via video, I am very adept at speaking. :)

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