Friday, Dec 13, 2013
SIU Professor Researching "Smart Grid" Privacy Concerns
CARBONDALE -- Illinois power companies are investing billions of dollars to upgrade the state's electric system. A new "Smart Grid" will allow meters on homes and businesses to communicate with the utility companies. However, one local professor is researching how that information could be abused.
Ameren is excited about its ten year "smart grid" plan. The company believes the technology will help pinpoint outages sooner and give customers a better idea of their energy use. The first "smart meters" will be rolled out to some customers next year.
The "smart meters" and the information they send are the subject of a three-year research project at SIU.
The electricity delivered to your home travels across an aging system. It's one that utility companies hope to bring into the 21st century.
"We have the power grid," said SIU Computer Science Associate Professor Kemal Akkaya. "But we don't have a communication component for it."
The "smart meters" of this future technology will replace equipment that has to be checked in person. Instead, it will be sending back data around the clock.
"In an hour, you can see which house is consuming how much electricity," said Akkaya. "So in a neighborhood, you can see the demand."
Akkaya says the new grid could have several benefits. It could help customers save money by avoiding peak hours. It also gives utility companies better control during high-usage times, like summer days.
"Send a message through the smart meters to the houses," said Akkaya. "Increase your room temperature maybe a little bit, so they will have enough electricity for everybody."
However, the technology also raises some concerns for Akkaya. Data from the meters could be sold or abused by thieves and nosy neighbors.
"You can understand what the consumer is doing at home," said Akkaya. "So in the shower, or watching TV, ironing."
As part of a $300,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation, Akkaya and some of his students will spend the next three years looking for those flaws. They'll also figure out ways to protect personal information.
"Our focus is privacy," said Akkaya.
The team will start by using computer simulation. They'll then build a mock grid of WIFI routers on campus for more testing.
He hopes the research will be used to make sure customers can safely take advantage of the smart grid.
"Your readings will be all encrypted," said Akkaya. "Then the utility company will work with encrypted data and generate your billing."
Ameren is also doing their own research. They've opened two smart grid testing sites.
An ameren spokesperson says the "smart meter" rollout will be slow. Plus, not everyone will get an upgrade. The company wants to start with smaller communities, especially those with the oldest meters. Customers will also get a letter in the mail three months before any changes are made.
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