back to article Smart meters are 'massive surveillance' tech - privacy supremo

The European Data Protection Supervisor has warned that smart meters are a significant privacy threat and wants limits on the retention and use of customer data before it's too late. The EDPS is an independent authority figure tasked with identifying where EU policies might represent a risk to privacy. He reckons next- …

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  1. Kravex
    WTF?

    Don't Panic!!

    Does the European Data Protection Supervisor also have a business that sells tin foil hats?

    1. I think so I am?
      Devil

      Re: Don't Panic!!

      No, but owns shares in tin foil makers

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Time to check out of the rat race an live on a desert island, I don't need someone monitoring my number two's and how many times I flush. And if Google happens to send over a drone I'll blast it from the sky.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't Panic!!

      Typical commentard. Tell me what it's like to send all your correspondence using postcards instead of using envelopes. What's that? you prefer nobody read your mail but your recipient? You must have something to hide!

  2. Benjamin 4

    Or could we not just get them scrapped as a waste of time? No? We've run out of energy and need them to limit usage? How about the energy used by the meters and the billions spent fitting them? Why not spend those billions building another nuke? How about that?

  3. localzuk

    "The real way to reduce power consumption is by using smart appliances - such as a washing machine that can be configured to run during the night"

    Erm. How does running a washing machine at a different time reduce consumption? All it does is move it to a different time. Reducing consumption can only be done by, you know, using less. Ie. More energy efficient homes.

    1. JimC

      But moving to a different time is useful

      If power use is taken out of peak demand times and moved to off peak then the total generation capacity can be reduced. But personally I won't want my washing machine kicking in in the middle of the night and creating noise.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But moving to a different time is useful

        @Jim, I agree, in my current house, but my in-laws wouldn't have an issue, due to their washing machine being miles away from the bedrooms. Also, I wouldn't have an issue with my fridge being told to stay off for 15mins or so, or my dehumidifier being off for a similar amount of time.

        1. badgers
          Meh

          Re: But moving to a different time is useful

          You have a dehumidifier?

          1. TeeCee Gold badge
            Coat

            Re: But moving to a different time is useful

            Yes, that confused me too.

            Why doesn't he just move into a spare, dry wing of his in-laws' palace?

            1. Graham Marsden
              Thumb Down

              Re: But moving to a different time is useful

              I used to "time shift" my laundry, I'd put washing in at night and set a time switch on the plug so the appliance would come on early in the morning and would be finished by the time I woke up (the machine being right at the other end of my house from my bedroom).

              However now I can't do that because on my new machine there's no mechanical "on-off" button which will let me leave it "switched on" but with nothing happening until the time switch on the plug activates it, just a "soft touch" button which needs pressing before anything happens.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

                1. Graham Marsden

                  @Larry F54

                  "I'm surprised. I thought most washing machines (as well as dishwashers) these days had built-in delay timers."

                  Not the one I've got and to replace it would just be more wasteful.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: But moving to a different time is useful

            re: Dehumidifier - I live in a Victorian terraced house with a cellar...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. xyz
      Devil

      Obviously...

      ...the bunch that want you to use your washine machine at night live in detached houses. You try that nonsense in a flat and the noise abatement bloke will be round pronto. Is this from the same bunch that brought us the "fill yer jerry cases with petrol" advice?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      well..

      Its about peak load balancing. Running some stuff at night when capacity is available and spare makes it cheaper to deliver the power.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Detecting what you're watching

    "pattern of energy consumed by a decent flat-screen TV can be used to work out what programme is being watched"

    All the more reason to turn off the dynamic picture-screw-up options and leave the backlights running at constant brightness all the time. Looks more natural anyway, like an old CRT.

    No way around it when OLED takes over though, no backlight on those.

    1. Gavin King
      Joke

      Re: Detecting what you're watching

      Natural like a CRT: gotta love the natural electrons hitting the natural phosphors on the natural, green (naturally?) glass envelope.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Washing

    My washing machine already does run overnight (it's called a delay timer). Doesn't save me any money as I'm not on an Economy 7 type tariff, but it does mean I can hang out all my nice clean scruddies before I head off to work.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Timmay
      Mushroom

      Re: Washing

      Bam............. bam............ bam.......... bam......... bam........ bam....... bam...... bam..... bam.... bam... bam.. bam. bambambambambambambambambambambambam (omgthehouseisgoingtofalldown) bambambam!!!!

      Just me with a rickety old washing machine then?

      1. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

        Re: Washing

        ssshhhssshshshshhshshshshshshshshhswushwushssshshshshshshsh bleep bleep bleep KLANK!!!

        That's more or less how my washing machine runs. Just bought it last month after 20+ years of the old on. It's whisper silent. Other than the configurable bleeps that signify the end of the washing and the KLANK that means the relay to disconnect it from the power got triggered(which is actually heard while the bleeps aren't really heard).

        And this is a 1600rpm model at that.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Captain TickTock
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Washing

        new keyboard pls, Timmay.

        We have a new-ish whirlpool sock-eater.

        when those eco wash balls with grooves in get caught on the rim of the drum, all hell breaks loose.

        Need to get a different set of eco-balls, and/or a new washing machine

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Eco balls - pah

          You should hear them when a wire comes out of one of the missus bras and goes through the holes in the drum, it's like the re-enactment of a battle!

    3. jason 7 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Economy 7

      Has anyone ever enjoyed using that? Everyone I have ever known always starts of really smug (I don't know why) when they switch to it and from that moment on it just leads to ever increasingly bizarre behaviour (running downstairs at 2am to switch the washing machine on) and recriminations (when they didn't as it had to be done at the crippling day rate).

      They all end up nervous wrecks on Economy 7.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Economy 7

        I don't think it was ever meant for running appliances overnight. It was so that people with electric heating could heat their water overnight so they had some nice warm water come the morning.

        1. NogginTheNog

          Re: Economy 7

          Yep, I lived in a flat a long time ago which had E7 heating: wall heaters with big bricks inside them which got heated up overnight, and then released their heat throughout the day, often when you were at work :-\

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not shared with 3rd parties

    only within our mulch-tentacle own corporation selling energy, condoms, tellies, ISP services, insurance, washing powder, etc, and then, naturally, bound by the legal requirements, we're obliged to share this information with first parties, such as "law enforcement agencies" and other "government agencies" (your local council loves you!) and second parties, i.e. "carefully selected business partners".

    And, ehm...sorry about this leak of 5 mln data files on our customers last night, it won't happen again, we promise to encrypt them. Next time. No, really, seriously, it's a promise, we take privacy of our customers really seriously.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tip to bad guys

    Buy a UPS. Then they can't monitor your consumption patterns for whatever's plugged in.

    Tip to law enforcement: anyone using a UPS is a criminal

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: Tip to bad guys - patterns

      "That might sound fanciful, but researchers have already demonstrated that the pattern of energy consumed by a decent flat-screen TV can be used to work out what programme is being watched, and Hustinx is probably right that this isn't information most of us would wish to share with our electricity providers."

      So there are model behaviours apparently for different types of kit.

      A tablet running various models could also be used to turn on and off different loads to mimic varoius domestic appliances.

      "No officer, I haven't got a loft full of weed, that's just the breadmaker, dishwasher, washing machine and the rest all coming on."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tip to bad guys - patterns

        You jest, but I take the weed from the farm in the loft, and use the breadmaker, dishwasher and washing machine to process it into Ma Brannigan's Famous Herbal Soap Cakes - "A sovereign remedy for all that ails ye!"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tip to bad guys - patterns

        If you are going to have weed in the attic, it is way better to insulate your walls, floor and roof, use mylar in walls and put a hefty (but silent) ventilation system. You should also have an insulated diesel generator (using the fuel for the heater), and the exhaust should go up, to the roof.

        No other way to be safe!!

        Anonymous.. you know why...

    2. Michael Dunn

      Re: Tip to bad guys

      You'd need an extremely big/expensive UPS to run a washing machine from!

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Flame

    Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

    An article of faith indeed.

    We already *know* how much energy we're using; we get a sharp reminder every three months. And if we want to see it in real time, we can go into the garage or the garden or the cupboard under the stairs and watch the bloody disc spinning around.

    There is absolutely no point, no rhyme nor reason, why this should be implemented, other than for the gratification of the 'ooh look, we're doing something crowd'.

    As indicated earlier, get some nukes built. Now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

      @Neil - The reminder every three months is how much energy you have used. A dynamic display in your front room or kitchen, wherever, is how much you are using. It's pretty hard to see the impact of running your washing machine from a three monthly bill, it's pretty easy from a dynamic display.

      1. Steven Raith
        FAIL

        Re: Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

        I already have a dynamic display - much like Neils', it's that disc spinning like a top that makes me realise I'm chewing through enough power to run a third world village for a week, every time I do my whites.

        I don't need to see that in KW/h on a digital display with tactical mapping and a frowny cartoon character telling me off - I already know how much power my washing machine uses.

        "A metric shitload".

        Steven R

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

          Again, the spinning wheel doesn't really show you how much you're using, it's also usually in a cupboard in which case it doesn't show you at all what you're using. In a previous life I was an electrical engineer and thought I had a pretty good idea about how much power different appliances used in the house, until I setup a system to log power usage. You learn a lot when you do that, especially for things like washing machines.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: *magically reduce that consumption*

          The advantage of the smartmeter to the energy distributor is that they can 'load modulate' at any time. The meters can (presumably) be programmed OTA to lower their trip level to just 13 Amps, or 5 Amps. I'm not talking about a single appliance eventually being made smart - but when remotely your entire house (due to global warming or just generic lack of energy due to underinvestment whatever) is given the option - do you want 3 kilowatts or not? - then a smartmeter is the tool of remote control.

          I said (presumably) above as I've been trying to get my hands on one to test in the lab, my domotically installed smartmeters ( I now have 3) were over the air upgraded to 5kW, but to get an isolated specimen for testing is not that easy

          (C) Strummer/Jones "Remote Control" CBS S CBS 5293 (1977)

          Who needs remote control

          From the Civic Hall

          Push a button

          Activate

          You gotta work an' you're late

          It's so grey in London town

          With a panda car crawling around

          Here it comes

          Eleven o'clock

          Where can we go now?

          Can't make a noise

          Can't get no gear

          Can't make no money

          Can't get outta here

          Big business it don't like you

          It don't like the things you do

          You got no money

          So you got no power <<<<------- I think this line refers to remote control of the smartmeter???

          They think you're useless

          An' so you are - puuuuuuunnnnnk!

          They had a meeting in Mayfair

          They got you down an'

          They wanna keep you there

          It makes them worried

          Their bank accounts

          That's all that matters

          And you don't count

          Can't make no progress

          Can't get ahead

          Can't stop the regress

          Don't wanna be dead

          Look out' those rules and regulations

          Who needs the Parliament

          Sitting making laws all day

          They're all fat and old

          Queuing for the House of Lords

          Repression - gonna start on Tuesday

          Repression - gonna be a Dalek

          Repression - I am a robot

          Repression - I obey

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

        Indeed it is/does.

        Is there any peer-reviewed evidence that a real-time power monitor makes any difference to how people use power? (Ignoring the issues of potentially poor estimation of power usage.)

        I can't help but feel that people who have concern for their usage/cost will already be changing things to suit them, but that there are many who cannot change either their usage nor their timing. Irrespective of what time of day you do it, you still need to do the washing...

        1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Re: Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

          Actually, yes!

          It's not peer reviewed, but here's my personal experience...

          I got one of those little plug-on thingies that clips round the wire in the meter box and transmits current usage to display in sitting room. And now I know what the background usage should be when I'm watching telly or whatever (including fridge, servers, routers etc) and if the reading is unexpectedly high it reminds me that either I've left the lights in the office on, or forgotten to switch off the hob in the kitchen or whatever - and I go and switch them off. Result, reduced consumption - but NO need for the suppliers to knwo what I'm doing on a minute-by-minute basis. I havefound that now I tend to put more washing on the line rather than using the tumble drier, and pop a few logs on the stove rather than switch on an electric fire or central heating when it's a cool evening.

          Personally, if they fit a smart meter for me I'll be fitting the box with a Faraday cage!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption

          First hand only, but it does here in Australia because we use the demon air conditioner. Depending on the age and size of the device it can use an awful lot more electricity than you imagine. Example - come home from work one evening and house is sweltering despite being left largely open all day. Put on the new air-con in the lounge. Usage jumps about 700W for the 5kW unit. Switch on air-con in the kitchen/diner area. Usage jumps up 2.4kW for the 4.5kW unit. Turn off kitchen unit, switch on ceiling fans to circulate air.

          If it hadn't have been for the real-time meter we would have had a crippling electricity bill for that summer. It's sometimes surprising just how inefficient older appliances can be. Personally I'd rather be slightly uncomfortable or minimise my time in this area than chew 2.4kW/hr. Some people just pay up. I think I'll just get the thing replaced, eventually.

  9. Shonko Kid
    Black Helicopters

    2020

    I'd think that by then solar/wind tech will be much more accessible (ie cheap) and the cost of power from the grid so prohibitive that most people will draw very little from the grid, which would mess up the data some what.

    And if not then, I'm going to book a spot on Dragon's Den to market what is essentially a massive capacitor to go inline with the meter that smooths out the data.

    1. Irongut Silver badge

      Re: 2020

      How exactly do you suggest my 7 neighbours and I get sufficient electricity from solar/wind in a tenement flat in Glasgow? How would you ensure all 8 flats in the building all get a fair share of the electricity generated?

      What about 20+ storey tower blocks?

      Generating your own electricity is fine for River Cottage types with lots of land but doesn't work in the city.

      1. Shonko Kid
        Black Helicopters

        Re: 2020

        That's a fair point. Can I sign you up for a iMeterSmooth-o-tron then? I can offer an early bird discount!

      2. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

        Re: 2020

        Agreed. Considering the average usage in our building with 3 appartments having 'lecy heating along with everything else 'lecy and 4 using gas and everything else 'lecy I'd have problems just covering my own use.

    2. Elmer Phud

      Re: 2020

      Theoretical power factor correction?

      In college we used to get apparent power consumption down to zero.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Curiously

    Smart meters are only here so they can cut the power off when they want during the shortage that is to come. Hope I'm wrong though...

    1. Mark 65

      Re: Curiously

      I do too but I agree with you. Given the lack of forward planning and infrastructure commitments the thing they can do quickest and easiest is to put in place the mechanism by which your usage/consumption will be controlled.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Err...

    Smart meters are a surveillance tech? Isn't that their primary reason for any meter to exist? They measure and record the amount of a product being used.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Err...

      >> Smart meters are a surveillance tech? Isn't that their primary reason for any meter to exist?

      But your normal meter only records the total quantity used. The supplier gets no information about when you use it, whether you run a light load for long periods, or a heavy load for short periods, whether you are a night owl or an early bird, etc, etc.

      Smart meter data will get them a lot of information about your lifestyle, as the article says, an advertisers wet dream and something that everyone should be bothered about.

      RE: Tip to bad guys

      >> Buy a UPS. Then they can't monitor your consumption patterns for whatever's plugged in.

      Sorry, complete and utter rubbish. In normal use, as long as there is mains power then the load on the output will be passed straight through to the supply - hence what the metering reads will be an accurate reflection of what you are using. That will only change if you actually switch off the mains input to the UPS and run the load off batteries - but that has a limited runtime unless you invest in big batteries.

      What is likely to happen if dynamic tariffs start putting peak rates up too high - people will get a UPS and use it to avoid paying for peak rates, then recharge during low cost periods. This will **NOT** save energy, it will actually increase consumption since the round trip (charge/discharge cycle) has significant losses - but it is what the authorities want so they can effectively price ration consumption to match the variable and unpredictable output from all those windmills we are paying for.

      There are already UPS-like units designed for boats and similar which will use battery power to limit mains draw when loads are high. Expect an updated version of these to be the next big thing to go with your smart meter.

      So wind (and to a much lesser extent, other renewables) swallows your cash in many ways :

      1) There's the upfront Renewables Obligation Certificates which roughly treble the income (ie cost per unit) for a windmill operator.

      2) There's the hidden costs of increasing the variability of demand on other generators - principally gas turbine. Because these other generators have to endure more starts, more (and larger) power variations, that puts their costs up. Because they get to produce less units overall (because they have to shut down when there's the right amount of wind), that puts their per-unit costs up. Mention that on a forum dealing with renewables and prepare to be banned for being abusive !

      3) Before long will will be expected to shut down our coal plants - in practice, don't expect that to happen on-time as we've f***-all to replace them with.

      4) To deal with all that, plus the failure of successive governments to face up to their obligations and actually plan a secure energy supply (and IMO that does mean embracing nuclear) - it won't be long before we have big problems. Notably, according to many expert forecasts we will cease to have a decent generating reserve - give it a nice cold winter like we had 1 1/2 years ago, demand at a peak, wind doing absolutely f***-all, and we can expect to run out of power. The youngsters won't believe this, but those of middle age and above can remember the rolling blackouts of the 70's - these smart meters will allow that on a finer grained basis.

      It's really going to help meet CO2 reduction targets when people start using UPSs on a large scale (add 30% to usage for losses) and diesel generators !

      Oh yes, according to UK gov, smart meters won't be compulsory. Yeah, right. You can stick to your old fashioned meter, but be prepared to pay some eye watering rate as punishment.

      1. CABVolunteer
        Headmaster

        Re: UPS: "Sorry, complete and utter rubbish"

        Do you undertand the difference between an "on-line" and "off-line" UPS?

        A ferro-resonant UPS would definitely obscure micro-fluctuations in demand, not to mention those motor-generator sets with spinning inertia that covered our ICL mainframes thirty years ago!

      2. This Side Up

        Re: Err...

        "But your normal meter only records the total quantity used. The supplier gets no information about when you use it, whether you run a light load for long periods, or a heavy load for short periods, whether you are a night owl or an early bird, etc, etc."

        So? Those data are no use unless the supplier can force you to change your lifestyle by using energy at different times. The generators are only interested in being able to reduce peak load so as not to have to build as much new generating capacity, and being better able to match demand to wind energy supply.

        The supplier only needs to indicate to users in general the level of demand, and then smart equipment can decide when it's most economical to run. The incentive would be a variable tariff that's lowest when demand is slack and/or wind energy is most abundant. The amount could be accumulated by the meter so there's no need for the micro-data to be sent to the supplier at all.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "plan a secure energy supply"

        "the failure of successive governments to face up to their obligations and actually plan a secure energy supply"

        Excuse me?

        Privatisation ensured that security of energy supply was left to "the markets", with governments having no influence over the matter.

        The result was predictable, and indeed was predicted.

  12. dotdavid
    Stop

    "such as a washing machine that can be configured to run during the night "

    My neighbours would *love* that feature.

    1. JohnMurray

      Hmm

      Yeah.....especially when two towels get caught on one side of the drum and the thing dances out of the room...taking the hoses with it...

  13. ScottishYorkshireMan

    Yes, I believe that Curiously is correct. Given that the recent governments have done nothing with the energy marketplace other than likely bury themselves in utility company shares, they are unlikely to do anything either. Cycled blackouts will likely become commonplace which you may be able to 'buy' your way out of. Also those suffering hardship will lose the lights likely without even been told when.

    1. Zombie Womble

      "Cycled blackouts will likely become commonplace....."

      Do you really think people are going to accept that?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They will have to, it's too late to do anything about it (well unless the government cut all the red tape and started construction on new power stations tomorrow).

        Yes, power stations coal/gas/nuclear, no amount of wimpy wind turbines or wave-powered generators will fill the short fall. What was the recent statistic on a BBC article about the new 'tide turbines'? It would take a thousand or more just to produce the same amount of electricity as the smallest gas powered power station and would cost 100x more. Each turbine having a lifespan of a few years compared to decades for a traditional power station.

        1. Zombie Womble

          If that's true then I'm off to live in France, at least their government realises we're in the 21st century and nobody should have to go without power due to political negligence and incompetence.

  14. Alan Brown Silver badge

    CRT - constant brightness?

    Most beam circuits have a design problem of increasing the dynamic range by raising/reducing the EHT voltage in line with the average grid current of the CRT (it's something that's very hard to design _out_ of the average low-cost tube circuit, given the way valves change parameters wildly as they age)

    This had the side effect on most 1970-80s designs of increasing/decreasing the overscan slightly(*) - which was a royal pain in the arse if there were large amounts of bright/dark flashing - such as various adverts and your average Dr Who episodes when the cybermen were about.

    (*) For some values of slightly, and a couple of bad resistors or dry joints could make most Philips chassis up to the TX9 produce more than just "slight" variations.

    Brightness variations in turn cause slight power fluctuations.

    So even on a CRT it was possible to deduce what was being watched by observing the power draw.

  15. banjomike
    Happy

    The info you get from these smart monitors ...

    ... can be pretty strange. A few years ago I replaced two multi-bulb lights in the living and dining rooms with recessed 28 watt circular fluorescents. When I got the monitor installed it showed that BOTH of them used approx 125 watts. So I replaced them again. The biggest shock (pun intended) was the 8000 watt Triton electric shower. A daily 10 minute shower and hairwash increased my weekly total by about 50%. Monitors tell you these things in real time which is nice but why the hell should Npower or any other company be continuously supplied with that info? Do they plan to write to me and say stop using the Triton? I have stopped, I invested in a fancy mixer tap which allows me to use the gas boiler for showers. Payback was about 7 months.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: The info you get from these smart monitors ...

      >> A few years ago I replaced two multi-bulb lights in the living and dining rooms with recessed 28 watt circular fluorescents. When I got the monitor installed it showed that BOTH of them used approx 125 watts.

      WRONG, very, very WRONG.

      You have just demonstrated what a pile of s**t most of these so called energy monitors are. Very few have the ability to measure voltage, even fewer have the ability to measure power factor. All they can do is measure current and guess the power - yes, guess.

      I see it time and time again where people believe the crap these units tell them - when those with a bit of electrical knowledge could tell thenm that while the flourescent lights may make the 'energy' monitor say they are using 125W, they are in fact using a lot less but at a poor power factor. I suspect a bit of the same is behind the totally rubbish old wives tale that plug in power supplies/chargers take as much power when idle as when in use.

      1. banjomike
        Happy

        Re: The info you get from these smart monitors ...

        I never supposed that these clip-on jobbies were totally accurate but the one I got from Npower gives me a weekly total that is the same as reading my meter (which I do weekly) plus-or-minus 1 unit. That is close enought for me.

    2. A J Stiles
      Megaphone

      Re: The info you get from these smart monitors ...

      Clip-on "energy monitors" give a result which is only slightly less accurate than reading tea-leaves.

      They do not measure voltage or phase angle. The voltage can vary, and different appliances respond differently to changes in voltage: most things draw more current at higher voltages, but switched-mode supplies and some kinds of motor draw less current at higher voltages. And without the phase angle, you can't measure the power factor. A purely inductive or capacitive load only stores and releases energy; it does not change it from one form to another.

      A gas combi boiler is much better for showering, as it will be able to put heat into the water 3-4 times as fast as an electric shower heater. And gas costs much less per kWh than electricity. A mains-fed hot water cylinder is even better as you get hot water at mains pressure (like a combi) but it can be heated from a less responsive source e.g. solid fuel, solar panels.

    3. Bernard M. Orwell
      Big Brother

      Re: The info you get from these smart monitors ...

      It's great for devices like this to tell US CONSUMERS how much power we're using and where; i'm all in favour of that. The issue is that these systems are going to report this information to your provider who will in turn use it to determine patterns of behaviour (no doubt for harmless, anonymised targetted marketing models). It is already the intention that the powers that be will then use this information to limit and control the amount of power you are permitted to consume and when you are permitted to consume it.

      "It also gives utility companies the ability to reduce consumption by communicating to devices directly..."

      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_grid#Peak_curtailment.2Fleveling_and_time_of_use_pricing)

      So, you will, eventually, not decide what devices you will have operating in your home, when you may operate them, what is done with the information gathered on your usage, possibly face criminal proceedings for "excessive usage" and have your usage shown to your neighbours either as an example of how they should behave or how energy-greedy you are compared to them.

      Social control anyone? Or do you want to carry on cracking jokes about tinfoil? Now, go and do some research into how RFID will be applied in a similar "smart grid" for objects (like your car, your possessions or even, if some americans get their way, you and your children) and line them up with the Energy Grid and the "improvements" to data interception.

      Still think I'm paranoid? Still think I have no reason to be paying attention to the bigger picture? Then I would suggest you are blind to history and gullible to a fault.

      Trust the powers if you want. Personally, I don't think it takes much intellect to realise that government and corporate interests cannot be trusted one whit.

  16. Blacklight
    Black Helicopters

    "Monitors" (such as British Gas give to customers for free) are fun and informative. I know what costs what in the house now, have verified the new washing machine & fridge are actually more cost effective, and that all the "stuff of standby/permanently on" stuff in the house (like DECT phone base stations) costs me 9p an hour, to "idle" the house - so there is room for improvement (save pennies), which I like to know.

    However, "Smart Meters" which collate and distribute said information for other people (gummint or power companies) - not something I want. I don't tell BP where/when/how fast/slow I drive my car - I just pay for what I need/use.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge
      Stop

      >> "Monitors" (such as British Gas give to customers for free) are fun and informative

      ...

      >>and that all the "stuff of standby/permanently on" stuff in the house (like DECT phone base stations) costs me 9p an hour, to "idle" the house

      See above, these 'energy' monitors do not tell you how much power you are using. They measure current and guess at power. Particularly at idle, a lot of stuff has a poor power factor so these 'energy guessers' over read by a huge amount. God only knows how they get past trading standards.

      They are a con.

      There are monitors which will report power - but they usually need wiring in as they need a voltage connection. Nothing that "clips on a meter tail" can tell you anything useful or accurate.

      1. The Flying Dutchman
        Boffin

        Depends on the monitor you use.

        I have one of these "plug-through" monitors, it measures instantaneous voltage, current, and phase angle (and thus power factor). Picked it up at the local supermarket for a few quid.

        With very light loads (less than say 10VA) it's not that accurate, but otherwise it works well, even with highly non-linear loads such as switching power supplies. Verified that by plugging in an old ATX PSU and applying various loads to its outputs while monitoring voltage and current waveforms with the classical tools of the trade.

        Using said monitor on various pieces of electrical equipment has resulted in some interesting observations...

        * Power consumption of CRT displays does indeed vary significantly with average brightness;

        * So does the power consumption of my P4 desktop machine according to processor load;

        * Modest but nonetheless significant (amounts to about 3 quid on a bi-monthly bill of 80 quid) power savings can be had by switching off ancillary equipment such as modems, routers and switches when nobody uses them;

        and so on and so forth.

    2. I Am Spartacus
      Big Brother

      You may not tell BP how you drive

      But your BMW definitely tells BMW how you drive, whether you accelerate and brake hard, and which person was driving (well, which key they were using - that's why the wife and I swap keys every couple of days).

      I suspect this is true of all modern cars that have EMU's fitted.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge
        Coat

        Re: You may not tell BP how you drive

        "I suspect this is true of all modern cars that have EMU's fitted."

        My car doesn't tell anyone anything and hasn't got a clue who's driving it. Does this mean it has an Ostrich fitted?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about this

    I damn well pay for every KWh of energy used so I will damn well use as much of it as I like.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How about this

      For you, Mr Tesla, we will make an exception

  18. Stratman

    The electrickery companies are going to give us smart meters at their expense so we can buy less of their product.

    Have I got this right?

  19. andreas koch
    Black Helicopters

    My cupboard under the stairs

    is clad with grounded, cold rolled electrical steel. How does that meter transmit it's information?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My cupboard under the stairs

      I confess I don't know! I've read of US smartmeters which use public 2.4GHz Wi-Fi to nearby streetlamp access points. I've also read of GSM/GPRS based smartmeters - which would bad enough in itself given the relative ease that GPRS can be decrypted these days. The old AM transistor radio detuned from a station & held next to the meter might indicate if staccato Wi-Fi/GSM bursts or indeed audio-tone FSK over the power bearer is being used. I've heard rather a lot of frequency shift key data in or near the longwave band (150KHz) around power transmission lines but I put that down to old SCADA systems.

      I haven't seen the FSK hardware at local CEGB substations (which would tend to filter it out) so I suspect it is a radio borne system, there will be a CEN/CENELEC standard somewhere!

      Wrapping the meter itself in aluminium foil might be a valid and legal way to control information flow.

      A cupboard under the stairs - unless the door is actually sealed with wiping contacts of RF 'fingerstock' will have a slot antenna around the door gap - hence not be a true electromagnetically shielded 'tempest' environment. Problem is that when GSM/GPRS modems start to perceive low RSSI they just boost power up to several watts @ 860MHz, this would presumably put-up your eleccy bill as I bet the smartmeter ICT itself is powered by the customer side of the system!?

  20. Da Weezil
    Coat

    I realise that politicians and academics who leech a very nice income from the public purse for a living may live with a casual abandon about utility bills but my off peak use is already flogged as hard as I can.. not for any other reason than its cheaper...

    Whatever I use at peak rate is what I *need* to use.. I need no smart meter.. or the cost that will go with it to me to replace it - probably by one of the politicians much loved stealth taxes.

    Another policy predicated on a falsehood that will do little more than load another cost onto the consumer that should be borne by the utility companies.

    The simple truth is it needs to be illegal for the data collected to be used for any other purpose than billing us, and should not be able to be passed on - even with identifiers stripped out - to a third party

    I'm sure our corrupt politicians are even now working out how to sell more of our privacy to data hungry corporations in exchange for generous party donations

    Coat... Slip the bung in the plain brown envelope in the party chiefs left pocket please

  21. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    So they can tell what program your TV is watching? Big deal. My set top box is already selling that info back to the cable company.

    I'd worry about meters that provide real time data which some tech savvy thieves can use to scan a neighborhood and figure out who is on vacation. Or during what times of the day your house is empty.

  22. Just Saying 132

    1984

    I have to laugh at this. Of course smart meters are meant for surveillance purposes. God only knows how all the data gathered will be used but you can be assured whoever is gathering the data will be about as benevolent as Google and Facebook are in building user profiles.

    Here, where I live, the city offered free smart thermostats to people, heck they would even install them for you free of charge. I know several allegedly smart people who feel for the trick. Summer hit and it's a comfy 40C outside and you've just cooked dinner and guess what? Even though it's 32C in the house the air conditioning won't turn on because you gave the power company and government control over your thermostat. You got to enjoy the sweltering heat until 8:30pm when the peak usage hours were over and "they" allowed you to have AC once again. I don't know a single progressive greeny that kept their free thermostat.

    Some of the scariest words you'll ever hear: "I'm from the government, I'm here to help."

  23. Lawrie
    Big Brother

    What about the wireless energy sensors that report back to the monitors themselves?

    Most of them operate around 433.92 MHz. If you listen around this frequency with an RF scanner you'll soon hear the periodic 'chirp...chirp' of data from these devices (in a typical urban area there are now dozens of such signals on adjacent channels.)

    Using a receiver such the Owl USB Connect you could decode the output and plot energy use on a spreadsheet - both your own, and your neighbour's too in theory. There seems to be no encryption.

    A bit of a worry because potential thieves could easily build up a picture of when a householder is at home or away.

  24. Aitor 1 Silver badge

    Plugin power meters

    Mine DOES get power factor. Otherwise it was useless...

    But don't worry, at least here in Spain, with the new meters they are going to charge also for "power factor".. so yes, in some years those bad quality meters are going to be useful.

    As for generating electricity with solar panels, here in spain it is about 3 times CHEAPER than grid electricity. Except that you only have leccy during the day... except yout can't store it... If you get batteries, then it is about the same (currently) price, but you have to pay upfront and theives can steal your pricey panels.

  25. scatter

    Got a reference for this?

    "That might sound fanciful, but researchers have already demonstrated that the pattern of energy consumed by a decent flat-screen TV can be used to work out what programme is being watched..."

    This is the second time this has been suggested here in the last week or so but I'm sceptical about the ability to do this via smart meters which give an overall power consumption for a house every five seconds.

    I can see you could probably do it in a lab with sensitive power meters but at a resolution of 5 seconds and with all the other noise you get from other devices...?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Got a reference for this?

      It was done in Germany, I'll have to dig for the link...try this... http://epic.org/privacy/smartgrid/smart_meter.pdf quote "Our research shows that the analysis of the household’s electricity usage profile at a 0.5s−1 sample rate does reveal what channel the TV set in the household was displaying" there are approaches such as this paper from Toshiba Bristol who propose a rechargeable battery randomly charging/discharging noise. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=5622047&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fxpls%2Fabs_all.jsp%3Farnumber%3D5622047 sorry subscription to IEE required or the usual tricks! ( "Privacy for Smart Meters: Towards Undetectable Appliance Load Signatures"

      Page 232

      Conference Location : Gaithersburg, MD

      Print ISBN: 978-1-4244-6510-1

      INSPEC Accession Number: 11630395

      Digital Object Identifier : 10.1109/SMARTGRID.2010.5622047

      Date of Current Version : 04 November 2010

      Issue Date : 4-6 Oct. 2010

      1. scatter

        Re: Got a reference for this?

        Interesting, ta. I believe the UK smart meter spec defines a 5s resolution and I imagine it's substantially harder to identify these kinds of things at these lower resolutions.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could be done

    I recall reading that it is also possible to detect the programs running on a PC by measuring the power consumption.

    So if say someone was to write a virus that "pulsed" the CPU loading regularly with a pattern dependent on say the last 3 digits of the Windows key then they could detect which machines in an area were infected.

    AC/DC

  27. No2SmartMeters
    Alert

    DO NOT ALLOW SMART METERS TO BE INSTALLED, EVERYONE

    DO NOT SWITCH OVER TO SMART METERS. Smart meters do not save money, they cost more. Smart meters do not save energy, they use more. Everywhere smart meters are installed, people get sick from them. Smart meters expose us to 160 times the radiation of one cell phone. Smart meters are unhealthy and even a national physicians' association (AAEM) has issued strong warnings against installing them. Smart meters cause some people to become homeless as they get so sick they can't live in their homes. The cost of the sick and additionally disabled and homeless people will burden a community forever. Smart meters only benefit the utilities, until they get sued for the damages. And then, there is the loss of privacy. Smart meters intrude upon your privacy and track everything you do inside your home. Consumer profiling concerns include "It said the "granularity" of the data that may be collected about consumers through smart metering "raises concerns with regard to security, the rights to privacy and the protection of personal data." The data could inform when homes are unoccupied, and reveal "patterns" about consumers' lives which could potentially be "tracked." (http://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2012/june/consumers-should-have-control-over-all-but-the-most-basic-smart-meter-data-processing-purposes-privacy-watchdog-says/).

    If you want to lose your health, your property, and your privacy, then go ahead and use "smart" meters. If not, fight them with all you've got. That is what we are doing in California. An all-out ban and criminalizing their installation is what is needed, never mind opt-outs. Take it from one who lived with the rotten devices for two years, it was horrendous and I will never be the same. www.electrosmogprevention.org

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: DO NOT ALLOW SMART METERS TO BE INSTALLED, EVERYONE

      well that's mostly bollocks!

      only sweden accepts that humans are electrosensitive and that's only 3% of the swedish population, the noceba effect is much more likely in california (like placebo but it's where you believe what drivel you read on the internet and persuade yourself that you're ill, randomised double-blind trials with low level rf devices versus empty boxes show zero discernable effects)

      er...Ok I agree with you about the pervasive tracking and you haven't mentioned that the derided smartmeters will allow anyone to be cut-off or market-forced into a lower consumption as our infrastructure gamed by happy groups such as ENRON finally falls on its face!

  28. cortland
    Big Brother

    Not a problem -- an OPPORTUN ITY

    Now government can nab the marijuana growers without the trouble of an IR radiometer scan. And isn't setting the heat too high in Winter an Anti-Social Act? Too cool in Summer? Hmm.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Electrosensitivity

    I have a theory about this.

    In fact, the problem is likely that a mutated bacteria is the cause, as the DNA resonates at certain radio frequencies in the low microwave range, turning on genes and leading to the production of endotoxins as the bacteria responds as if another more toxic species is present.

    It could possibly be living anywhere, probably in the sinuses or gut but the end result is the same.

    Would explain how some people seem to suddenly "catch" EHS out of nowhere and it persists for years with a vague mix of symptoms suggestive of a toxin response.

    Easy enough to test, culture suspect bacteria and see which endotoxins if any are generated when exposed to specific radio frequencies.

    AC/DC

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    mess with their heads

    It should be simple enough to disrupt this as a device in the middle attack I'm sure someone will figure it out ans make some dosh. Also I wouldn't worry about th EU making anything mandatory I doubt it will exist soon.

  31. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    There are 3 problems here

    Big utility companies like *big* gobs of generating capacity (which takes big gobs of cash).

    The choice of solution is not simple, it's *simplistic* to the point of stupidity.

    Govt (who mandated smart meters in the UK due to a nice little earner being passed to a peer in the Lords IIRC) because they know the "market" has not solved the problem (and they can't seem to alter the regulations to *make* it solve the problem, which is sort of the point of being able to change the regs in the first place).

    There *might* be ways around this. To square this particular circle you need a) better renewables (IE more *predictable* sources) which can be rolled out in *small* units that smaller groups can (just about) afford. I'm thinking groups of 10-20 houses b) a legal and financial framework that will support *lots* of smaller generators (which *supposedly* the UK now has).

    I'm thinking micro hydro, anaerobic digestion and low temp geothermal. None are cheap (at the moment) but all should be eligible for feed in tariff support and when up and running *all* are likely to be more *secure* when up and running than *any* wind or solar system. I'd guess the order would be low temp geothermal(single borehole house heating systems with down hole heat exchangers have been running since the 1930's in parts of the US mid West)/anaerobic digestion (human bowels are fairly predictable) and micro hydro (could freeze or hit low head in a drought) in terms of ongoing monitoring and attention.

    I'm fond of geothermal as the studies at Reading U in the 70s suggests a single borehole would be good for 500-1000 Kw. until the radioactive decay heat wore out (it's only good for a few million years) but you're looking at a 2Km hole in a built up area as opposed to the original 900m North Sea boreholes.

    What's actually needed is (in IT terms) a systems integrator to drill hole (or water wheels or digestor) /source & supply hardware/set up deal with electricity market. Engineering a drilling rig the size of one of those mini excavators (that can get through a doorway) is likely to be non trivial.

    The downside. Someone in the group gets an extra shed in their garden, and there will be ongoing replacement costs every 20-30 years shared between all homeowners (economies of scale should make them fall in *real* terms over that time).

    The upside. 50-100Kw of electricity 24/7/ to use or sell for (roughly) the next 10 000 centuries.

    No grid connection -> no excuse to need a meter.

    The question is does anyone have the combination of cash, skills and vision to form such a company in the UK?

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