The objective behind the implementation of 'smart' energy meters

Definitely not energy saving


1st objective. Gaining insight into energy consumption


The objective behind the introduction of ‘smart’ energy meters is first and foremostly to gain insight into small-scale users’ gas and electricity consumption.


The lobbyists for the introduction of the ‘smart’ meter systematically make it seem as if it is all about increasing consumer insight. However, the importance of such detailed insight into energy consumption isn’t so much that consumers can gain detailed information using this electronic equipment into what their household appliances and the ‘smart’ meter itself consume. The most important thing is the data which enables suppliers to provide energy as cheaply as possible on the basis of the behaviour and behavioural profiles of their customers. ‘Knowing’ customer behaviour, being able to predict the latter and having a tool which allows the monitoring of their behaviour enables the peak loads of energy required to be able to serve these customers to be reduced. There are also enormous financial interests involved in the business operations of companies and research institutes that generate income by developing ‘smart’ products such as smartphones, tablet PCs and E-thermostats.


Customers as managers of their own behaviour


Consumers prove to be very unenthusiastic about the fact that they are expected to continually occupy themselves with finding out how to be able to always engage the free market with regard to their basic needs. People have better things to do with their time than ceaselessly searching for the cheapest health insurance, dentist’s treatments, telephone, TV and internet subscriptions and energy contracts.


From coercion to ‘convincing people’


The interested parties in the business community, the research institutes and the government are wildly enthusiastic about the new economic opportunities.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs euphorically refers to the ‘golden triangle’ of business, government and knowledge; institutions which – through intensive cooperation – are to reinforce the growth potential of our economy and to provide solutions to societal challenges.


The only remaining obstacle to enabling the further roll out of these new products is finding ways to enthuse consumers.

See presentation at TNO Annual Conference ECP


Because the proposed law for the compulsory introduction of ‘smart’ meters failed to be passed companies are currently trying to convince customers to voluntarily agree to the installation of ‘smart’ meters using a strategies involving surprise visits (we’ve come to replace the meter because it has to be replaced), charm (honestly, it will save you money) and trying to convince people (we’ll supply them to you free if we have to).


The framing of these strategies is based on hammering the idea into the population that ‘smart’ meters lead to reduced energy consumption and are essential for energy conscious, intelligent citizens who won’t allow the business community to pull the wool over their eyes.

They are solely based on free market mechanisms. After all, studies have never shown that people who start using energy consuming equipment that accurately catalogues their energy consumption have gained such insight in their energy wastage that they start living more energy conscious lives.

Of course, the energy suppliers aren’t out to reduce turnover either.


The business community’s profit principle


If energy suppliers could have so much knowledge about the behaviour of their customers that they could capitalise on it by keeping the voltage on the power grid as low as possible, they could save millions as this allows them to limit the wasting of unsold, yet already generated energy.

The companies that manage to predict and control their customers’ behaviour in such a way that by using usage profiles the maximum power grid voltage can be commercially exploited as cheaply as possible will become the market leader in providing as much energy as possible at the lowest possible rate.


In order to optimise this process it is even handier if not only customer behaviour behind the front door can be recorded as accurately as possible (enabled by ‘smart’ meters) but also (and more lucratively) if device consumption can be remotely controlled. The ‘smart’ meter constitutes the gateway to an ‘internet of devices’. A new world in which not only the user can monitor and operate his/her devices remotely, but a system in which devices can independently communicate with suppliers or amongst themselves. Refrigerators that communicate with supermarkets and washing machines that ‘talk’ to people’s electric vehicles.


Government benefits


The government also benefits financially from the business community turning over as much energy as possible at the cheapest possible rate. Both directly as a utility company shareholder and from the taxation of both energy turnover and the sale of electrical and gas-powered devices.


Moreover, the government can keep a closer watch on citizens by accurately recording the energy behaviour of as many households as possible. According to the law, the government and its representatives the police, the public prosecutor’s office, security and intelligence services can compel energy companies to hand over all the customer data they possess. This applies to both private energy suppliers and the semi-private network operators. Smart meters equal sly spying.


For example, the government can, without the parties involved being aware of this, study who consumes more or less energy than average in a particular type of accommodation, at which times people consume energy, how often and for which purposes.

This data can burden citizens with an immediate ‘administrative’ suspicion. Think for example, of people who often feel cold being accused of illegally subletting their homes or singles being accused of cohabiting by housing corporations or people being suspected of housing people without valid residence permits. Consumption data can also be used to conclude that people consume more or less energy than they are expected to at a particular point in time when they are supposed to be home or not as the case may be by comparing usage and their labour contract/study obligations/disability benefit/unemployment benefit/etc.


These are but a few of the countless data mining options which exits and more options could be created by enriching the information with data from other databases.


The option of not only being able to monitor, but also being able to regulate energy remotely provides opportunities for regulating the behaviour of citizens.

Energy suppliers and the government and in entirely disastrous scenarios also criminals will be able to intervene by severely curtailing or stopping the provision of energy to private individuals. Citizens on a limited income for example could be prevented from engaging in non-payment by limiting their consumption of energy so they do not exceed their means. There is also the option of providing preferential treatment to neighbourhoods with more smart car charging stations during peak loads over areas that are less profitable to the energy companies, etc.


Benefits for criminals or totalitarian regimes


The use of ‘smart’ energy meters which provide remote access to databases of people’s behaviour constitute a goldmine for criminals as well as opening up opportunities for extortion or identity theft. If you allow a ‘smart’ meter into your home which transmits data on your behaviour across the internet you run the risk of this data ending up in the hands of unauthorised third parties. That this constitutes a realistic risk is borne out by the fact that identity theft is one of the fastest growing forms of crime.

In this framework it should also be mentioned that the current development of privacy invading ‘smart’ meter systems provides a vision of a frightening future in which totalitarian regimes can quite easily modify citizens’ behaviour by monitoring and manipulating the supply of energy.