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A smarter grid raises concerns on data privacy, integration challenges

Presenters at a smart meter technology meeting had mixed feelingson the benefits and risks from increased deployment of advanced metering infrastructure,or AMI.

There are 65 million smart meters installed to date in the U.S.,the Edison Electric Institute, representing investor-owned utilities, said duringthe National Town Meeting on Demand Response and Smart Grid in Washington, D.C.,presented by the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

Phil Moeller, a former FERC commissioner and now EEI's seniorvice president of energy delivery and chief customer solutions officer, agreed for"more AMI deployment" across the nation to support clean energy developmentbut cautioned the grid needs to be designed with "flexibility" to avoidgetting "locked into a technology."

Advanced metering infrastructure refers to meters that can measurepower consumption and share the data with both the local utility and the customer,while traditional meters tend to share the data only with the local utility.

The integration of all these devices on the local distributionsystem will create integration challenges, Allen Mosher, vice president of policyanalysis at the American Public Power Association, said July 12 on the first panelof the meeting.

"The integration of all these devices will get complicated,"Mosher added. Connecting a variety of devices can stress the local distributionsystem, he suggested. Mosher stressed the need for more customer education and engagementto ensure that customers understand the data that smart technologies and utilitiescollect.

A poll of meeting attendees showed that participants felt thatthe U.S. distribution system will see the most advancement in the next 10 to 15years, more than the U.S. transmission system.

On another panel, state regulators also talked about opportunitiesand risks from smart meter technologies.

Maryland has done a roll-out of smart meters, and the next stepis for the state to figure out what to do with the data the meters collect.

"How do we take this information and optimize the [distribution]system?" Maryland Public Service Commissioner Anne Hoskins asked. Much efforthas been done to look at the wholesale markets and transmission markets, but thestate is looking to identify where the distribution grid is vulnerable and how tooptimize the system, she added.

Washington Utilities and Transportation Commissioner Phil Jonessaid he is concerned about "privacy issues" around a smarter grid, suggestingconcerns around the privacy of data collected about customers, including the powerconsumption trends measured by smart meters. He expects a more "a balancedgrid" in the next 15 years in his region and a lot more renewables on the system.

Mike Champley, a former member of the Hawaii Public UtilitiesCommission who was replacedabruptly at the end of June in a move that has been disputed, said a "digitally controlled grid" couldaid distribution planning and be a "golden opportunity" to increase theutilization of distributed energy resources. The resources include solar backedby energy storage and microgrids, which are smaller grids that can continue operatingif a regional grid system is down.

At least 33 states have deployed smart meters to 15% ormore of their electricity customers, according to a September 2014 report, "Utility-ScaleSmart Meter Deployments," from the Edison Foundation Institute for ElectricInnovation, an educational nonprofit formed by members of EEI.