California’s New Energy Data Privacy Rules: Some Answers, Many Questions

1Executive Summary

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) just released a proposed ruling (PDF) that deals with data privacy and security issues for residential utility customers; it has ordered the state’s big three utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — to follow it. But the policy also applies to third parties that want to access that data. Right now, that list includes Google PowerMeter, and it could grow to include home energy systems from corporate contenders such as Microsoft, Intel, HP, Cisco, Schneider Electric, eMeter, Belkin, Verizon and many others, as well as startups like Tendril, EnergyHub, Control4, Onzo, AlertMe, OpenPeak and EcoFactor.

The CPUC is the first U.S. regulatory entity to issue such a sweeping set of guidelines. The goal is to allow startups and corporate giants alike to access energy data to make homes more energy-efficient, manage household loads to balance peak grid loads, integrate smart thermostats and appliances and eventually build “smart home” networks. California’s big three utilities will have about 10 million smart meters installed in the next year or so, and California residents could lead the market in new energy-smart home devices and networks.

That makes the CPUC’s new ruling a critical document for the smart grid industry to track. However, it also makes for some frustrating reading for those wanting answers to long-standing questions on the future of energy data privacy. In fact, the new ruling seems to pose at least as many questions as it answers, mainly by introducing a set of terms by which it manages differences in privacy rules — such as the concept of “locked” devices — that will doubtless be open to multiple interpretations.

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