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UK unveils privacy guidelines for smart meter rollout

The UK government today unveiled new guidelines for the national rollout of smart meters in a bid to allay consumer fears over security.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change wants 30 million homes and small businesses to have smart meters by 2019. The government has talked of a mass implementation of meters since it came to power in May 2010 but the campaign has run into opposition from consumer groups over data security issues.

Today energy minister Charles Hendry revealed guidelines which all utilities must follow in fitting smart meters. He is proposing that consumers will have a choice about who has access to their data, except for data which is needed for billing and meeting other regulatory obligations, and a model for centralised communications activity is set up to help consumers understand how to use meters to better manage their energy consumption and expenditure.

He also said that there should be no sales during the installation visit; installers must provide energy efficiency advice and will need the consumer’s permission in advance of the visit if they are to talk to them about their own particular products; and all households will be offered an in-home display allowing them to see what energy is being used and how much it is costing.

Hendry said: “In less than three years energy suppliers will begin the mass rollout of smart meters across the country and I am determined that consumers are at the heart of this ambitious programme. I want to be absolutely clear to consumers that they will be in control of their energy consumption data. So apart from where it is required for billing or other regulated purposes, it will be for consumers to decide who can access their data.”

Smart meters have suffered a mixed reception from consumers in other European countries and also the US. The Netherlands scrapped its implementation because of customer opposition and some schemes in US states have suffered a similar fate.

Andy Corkhill, director of EMEA Utilities at relationship management consultancy Convergys, told PEi: “Ultimately, consumers will bear the cost of any smart meter rollout, soà‚ it is imperative that they understand the reasons and rationale behind it. More importantly they must be aware of what it means to them in terms of available services and most importantly,à‚ the associated costs.”

“Utilities, governments and their regulatorsà‚ cannotà‚ ignoreà‚ this desire for engagement and information from consumers, especially considering consumers will ultimately be paying for it. Utilities need to empower the consumer. Whenà‚ effectively engaged with, the consumerà‚ will share informationà‚ and is more likely to co-operate as they feel empowered, informed, and enabled to make smarter choices. The consumer will embrace the opportunityà‚ to take controlà‚ of theirà‚ consumption, usageà‚ and ultimately their bill.”