If there’s one thing (cost aside) we all hate about our energy companies, then it’s predicted bills and meter readings.
Both introduce an unnecessary level of stress that you really shouldn’t have to deal with when you’re just trying to live your life, and, as it turns out, the energy companies agreed.
The last few years have seen the gentle roll out of so-called smart meters which connect to your home to provide you with a constant indication of exactly how much energy you’re using. They also communicate with your energy provider, providing them with accurate information about your usage, ending the era of predicted usage bills.
To date, the likes of British Gas, EDF, E.On, First Utility, Ovo, SSE, nPower, Scottish Power and a host of smaller brands have made smart meters a part of their offerings. Indeed, between now and 2020 smart meters will be coming to every energy supplier as a matter of governmental policy.
With all that data flying about though, do we have something to worry about? Let’s take a look.
How do energy companies protect our data?
All the information coming from your smart meter is encrypted before being sent to your energy supplier – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe.
Thanks to weak encryption at a Spanish power network, independent researchers were able to find the encryption keys and unscramble the information that the meters were sharing with the nation’s power distribution system.
The potential risks that would pose to consumers and the Spanish power networks were serious, and have sparked a serious debate within the country about data privacy.
Back here in the UK, energy companies have pointed out that superior encryption technology used within British smart meters should rule out a similar issue here, but the debate rages on. In an increasingly connected world where cybercrime has become big business for private companies and nations, the security of our energy network has to be key.
Have energy companies said what they intend to do with our data?
Aside from the main features of energy meters (accurate bills and automatic readings), energy companies say that the data isn’t used for much at all. For example, British Gas say that they won’t use the data from your smart meters for marketing products or services, unless you say they can. They also state that if you leave them, they will no longer have access to data from your smart meters.
Both of these statements should be reassuring to customers who fear that their data will be commoditised and used to tell things, however, the lack of a general data protection plan for smart meters is worrying.
Should we be worried?
At this early stage, it’d be unfair to judge the safety of smart meters. There have been no reported cases of hacking in the UK regarding smart meters, although GCHQ did recently intervene in the smart meter rollout to remove a security loophole which would have meant every smart meter would have the same encryption key.
Only in the years to come will we see truly how secure smart meters really are, but for the time being, they’re a fantastic convenience for our homes.