By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News
California regulators have adopted the nation’s first sweeping privacy rules for household smart meters that form the backbone of the growing “green” grid, vowing to protect consumers from cyber attacks that could steal energy usage data and other private information.
The California Public Utility Commission will require utilities to regularly conduct independent security audits of their millions of wireless meters and to restrict the access of third parties, such as energy-efficiency consultants, to customers’ personal details.
The nearly 200-page decision, announced last week, applies to the state’s biggest utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison — which together have deployed about eight million of the nation’s 21 million smart meters, with three million more devices planned for late 2012.
“The rules and policies we’ve adopted are the first such in the nation and should serve as a national model,” CPUC president Michael Peevey said in a statement.
He added that the standards are consistent with privacy and security principles adopted by California’s Senate Bill 1476, which former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law last September, and by the Department of Homeland Security.
The smart grid’s rollout across the United States is predicted to revolutionize energy generation and distribution by allowing more intermittent wind and solar power on the grid and by making operations more efficient. By 2020, nearly 60 million smart meters, which transmit real-time data on customers’ electricity use, are expected to be installed nationwide.
With its rules, the commission aims to protect citizens from the kinds of security and data breaches that have plagued credit card payment systems, online gaming platforms like the Sony Playstation Network and similar wireless systems. In recent attacks, hackers have exposed or stolen hundreds of thousands of customers’ names, credit card and debit card numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses.
Smart grid experts applauded the new standards but said that utilities’ compliance with them should be one piece of a much larger cyber security strategy.