Tag: smart meters

Smart meters might diddle users

Dutch boffins have tested ‘smart’ electrical meters and discovered that lots of them are giving out ¬†false readings that in some cases can be 582 percent higher than actual energy consumption.

A study involved several tests conducted on nine different brands of “smart” meters, also referred to in the industry as “static energy meters”.

Researchers also used one electromechanical meter for reference… Experiments went on for six months, with individual tests lasting at least one week, and sometimes several weeks. Test results varied wildly, with some meters reporting errors way above their disclosed range, going from -32to +582 percent.

Researchers blamed all the issues on the design of some smart meters, and, ironically, electrical devices with energy-saving features. The latter devices, researchers say, introduced a large amount of noise in electrical current waveforms, which disrupt the smart meter sensors tasked with recording power consumption…

The researchers estimate that “potentially inaccurate meters” have been installed in the meter cabinets of at least 750,000 Dutch households and worldwide the figure is in the millions.

Some governments, especially in the EU, have pushed for smart meters to replace classic electromechanical (rotating disk) meters. We guess this is because they are helping their chums in the energy industry pad out their bottom lines.


Armed Texans reject smart meters

Armed Texan residents are protecting their homes against what they view as the intrusive policies of utility companies that are trying to install smart meters in their homes.

According to Associated Press, one resident has even put up a sign on her property that reads “No trespassing” and “No smart meters”. Thelma Taormina said, although she keeps a gun on her property to protect herself against intruders, the last time she had to use it was to scare off a persistent utility worker. “We have rights to choose what appliances we want in our home,” she said.

Others, AP reports, are building steel cages around their traditional electric meters and refusing to let the utility companies bring in the new technology. One public utility commission meeting attendee compared the policy of the power companies to the Gestapo.

Although smart meters are, according to the utility companies, designed to make our homes more efficient by relaying data back from the grid and allocating the appropriate resources – along with a dearth of other data – residents believe the systems could be utilised to spy on them.

The presence of an electronic device that they do not own in their homes has raised fears that they could allow the authorities to spy on them, even going so far as to let them know when residents were awake. One said he would not “let somebody else control what I do in my house”.

Others still are concerned – with no thanks to the government-sponsored scare-mongering about hacking – that malicious cyber attacks could take control of their homes or steal very personal data. There are also concerns about adverse health effects, specifically dangerous radio waves.

For now, AP reports, the residents are winning: utility company CenterPoint has told workers they must leave the premises immediately if smart meters are rejected, citing “tough resistance” as a safety worry for its employees.

Big business ignores smart meter security risks for short term profit

Smart meter vendors are ignoring the cyber security risks associated with this technology, pushing it on the masses mostly to drive profits.

A recent FBI report highlighted a number of cyber attacks against smart meter installations over the past several years. It said the attacks could have cost the US hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

According to the Krebsonsecurity blog, the report warned that insiders and individuals with only a moderate level of computer knowledge could hack meters with low-cost tools and software, which could be bought quite easily over the internet.  This could then be used to change the details of the smart meter and ramp up electricity bills for households.

According to a security expert, speaking under anonymity, this isn’t a new threat.

“We’ve been saying for years that smart meters are targets for hackers but companies looking to make money from this technology have ploughed ahead regardless,” our source said. “Now it seems that governments and the legal authorities are finally waking up to what a big threat this is”.

Back in 2009, the Georgia Tech Information Security Centre warned that cyber tactics could be used to defraud utilities or perhaps cause power outages. They said the threats applied to water and gas systems, which are rolling out smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure. A further warning was issued that hospital infrastructure could be caught up in the attacks either through a direct attack, or accidentally through unpatched software on critical systems.

“There is a problem and this latest FBI finding is just bringing it to the surface,” TechEye heard. “The fact that most small time hackers can break into one of these shows there’s a huge gap in the regulatory market”.

Earlier this year, E.ON got heavy handed and criticised the UK parliament for citing cyber security fears as delaying the UK’s smart meter roll out.

However, our source told us this “may have been one of the most sensible things parliament had done in a very long time.”

“Ruled by big businesses,” our source said, “governments are having their hands forced into signing requirements for this technology without being 100 percent sure about the cyber security consequences”.

“They are ruling the roost and putting huge pressure on authorities and businesses.

“Until big business butts out and stops forcing authorities to make rash decisions we’ll have a problem on our hands. And as this technology grows and companies and vendors continue to push on regardless of the consequences, then we could see a lot more problems.”

Krebsonsecurity agreed: “Two researchers were slated to demo their smart meter hacking tools at the Shmoocon security conference earlier this year, but agreed to pull the presentation at the last minute at the request of several vendors and utilities that they declined to name.”

According to our source, there are other worrying implications, which suggest that big business is being short sighted and, most likely, is in danger of shooting itself in the foot.

“If the smart meter has personal information, such as names and addresses, these could be used for ID theft,” TechEye was told. “Secondly, if they can hack a residential meter, then hackers can also move onto big businesses, smart grids and much more.”

Vendors need to “for once” put cash aside and “really think about consequences” – or they could team up and create security regulatory and research into how these abuses can be curbed. “Of course,” our source said, “this will never happen.”

Smart meter market swells and prepares to boom

The smart meter market is growing massively with heavy investment.  Ovum has said this industry will see “massive” growth while Gartner claims though all verticals in EMEA will continue decline in 2010, the utilities and smart meter market will rise.

It predicted that enterprise spending in utilities will reach $46.2 billion in 2010, a 1.9 percent increase from 2009, and is expected to exhibit the highest year-on-year growth through 2014.

Researching the smart meter market, Ovum, which is part of Datamonitor, found that countries are in various stages when it comes to this sector. It listed the UK as looking to accelerate its smart metering roll out as well as citing the country as the most liberalised of Europe’s energy markets. It added that the metering segment was fully liberalised in the UK market.

According to Stuart Ravens, Ovum principal analyst, there are many reasons behind the growth.

“Smart meters became a mandatory technology in the EU with guidelines stating that there should be an 80 percent deployment of these by 2020,” he told TechEye.

“However, when the Labour government, was in power it put in plans to include smart meters in 100 percent of gas and electricity utilities by 2020. The coalition government has continued this but accelerated the deployment.”

He added that, looking at the technology, industry smart meters are one area that will grow and investments will continue to be made.

“Two years ago everyone was very worried about technology markets but smart meters were one area that they continued to invest in as it’s a future need.

“The downturn has accelerated this market because before this it was just slow and steady,” he added.

That said, there was still investment in this technology a few years back. According to Mr Ravens 2006-2007 saw some key players in hardware getting interested, including Itron, Landis + Gyr, Sensus and Echelon. Fast forward a few years and Oracle, Cisco, SAP and HP all have smart meter strategies in place.

However, with the good comes the bad and in the smart meter industry the downfall here is what Ovum describes as a “disruptive technology” – in terms of the investment needed by companies to be able to support them and their processes.

“For example you need to upgrade billing systems,” said Mr Ravens. “And also there’s a lot more data to be stored.”

He also said there were many more factors to consider with the new technology: “Consumers currently get one reading a year but smart meters will change this to giving us 48 a day.

“Companies may also begin to look at peak time charging like telcos do for telephones.”

Smart grids have been hailed as a way to help to reduce the environmental impact of traditional electricity production by supporting increased volumes of renewable energy and energy storage, with which ageing infrastructure was not designed to cope.

Meanwhile smart meters counter the issue of resource scarcity by influencing customer behaviour through demand-response programmes, which take control of appliances and turn them off when demand peaks. They also help to improve customers’ understanding of their energy usage, how it affects their bill and the environment.

Mr Ravens says customers who have smart readers in place need to be educated on how to maximise energy conservation

“The smart meter attached to someone’s wall will help companies and may be a nice novelty for consumers for the first three months but then they will go back to their old habits. “

Although Ofgem has come up with a strategy to try to combat this, through advertising campaigns, similar to the digital switchover, Ovum believes that this will not work as the industry needs a prolonged campaign to effect long-term behavioural changes.

 “[Companies] need to get customers to associate electricity use with recycling. For example turning off lights can save carbon,” Mr Ravens said.

“They also need to build up relationships with customers as at the moment many do not have good relationships. Consumers need clearer and more flexible tariffs, which take into consideration lifestyles and needs.”

Utility companies failing to harness smart grid potential

Electricity firms across Western and Eastern Europe and the Middle East are pushing ahead with smart grid plans, but are failing to  take full advantage of the opportunities presented by intelligent networks, Oracle has said.
In a survey of industry executives, Oracle found that utilities are making progress towards the implementation of smart grid infrastructures. However it warned that they will not be able to  reap the full benefits of the technology because they are not considering the key capabilities it delivers.

Of those surveyed 56 percent said they expected to have smart meters rolled out within five years, while some have already deployed or have begun or plan to begin a phased programme for the adoption of smart meters.

Half are concerned that their current IT applications will not be able to scale to their needs or investment. Just under half of those surveyed said they expected to achieve return on investment from smart meters in five years, whereas nearly a quarter don’t know when this will be achieved.

Many are pushing forward and notifying customers – with 62 percent saying they had begun informing their clients as to why smart meters had been installed. A further – 18 percent said they did not have a communication plan in place to help educate their customers.

Just over a third of utilities said they already had in place new systems, which were able to store the additional data from Smart Metering and extract intelligence from it, and another third said they expected to have these installed within five years. However, there was a lax 12 percent which admitted that they had not begun to assess the systems and a further 12 percent, which said they had no plans at all to put this in place.

According to Oracle, harnessing the information from smart meters has the power to maximise improvements being made to a utility’s business and its ability to enhance efficiencies such as providing accurate customer billing, improving field operations and supporting renewable generation.