Connected Homes – The Coming Wars

The Data Wars

Unless you’ve just landed on planet earth from a galaxy far, far away, you would know that the story dominating the news is about phone hacking, News Corp’s transgressions, recriminations and apologies, with real questions being asked about misuse of power and information.

In a nutshell, some people in certain news gathering businesses exploited illegal access to private information about consumers. They did so by hacking into their voicemail and mobile phones.  Here’s how, if you’ve wondered.

In 10 years time, though, there will be a lot more information we will as consumers be generating about our lifestyles. Smart meter data can provide incredibly detailed information about our lifestyles. But it’s not only smart meters, but our home automation, telehealth and a whole bunch of M2M services which will be generating data streams which provide clues of varying degrees of insight into our lifestyles. Consequently, the opportunity for unscrupulous organizations to exploit this will only be matched by our need to protect our own data. Stay tuned for a volatile data battleground around connected homes and connected services, over the next decade.

The Energy Wars

We are reliably told that some 47 million smart meters will be rolled out in the UK over the next 10 odd years. What’s not clear is whether consumers will have any say over whether they want a smart meter, or what the recourse is for a consumer who actually does not want a smart meter in his/her home.

In America, where there is no clear mandate, this battle is  being played out in the media and in homes, across the states.  Many people have questioned the benefits and costs of smart meters. This article walks through the experience of a smart meter user who believes in energy management but finds at the end of the day that he’s saving very little and spending a lot of time and money in the process. He also questions the cost structure of the overall experience.

Meanwhile in Australia, there is a struggle to balance rhetoric with economic reality. As energy costs spiral, the government’s carbon tax will wipe out any savings from smart meters. Also the challenge of building enough capacity to handle usage surges created by extreme weather conditions is compounded by the need to replace the ageing infrastructure and the state’s commitment to renewable energy. Using smart meters with multiple tariff structures is one way of controlling demand rather than seek supply side solutions. But smart meters have their own challenges. The significant investment apart, communication is a key aspect. In this case, many consumers discovered they had smart meters only when the received their bills.

Battle For Hearts & Minds

Clearly, it’s not just a matter of rolling out smart meters. There is already enough on the Internet to suggest a consumer backlash is almost a certainty if the rollout is done in a ham-handed manner. There are plenty of valid and less valid concerns. Some of them may not stand up to scientific scrutiny, but they are nonetheless, real concerns and need to be addressed.

This article is a very good pointer to the kind of concerns that are prevalent across the consumer space, when it comes to smart meters. The reality is that any connected service will face similar concerns and challenges so the lessons should not be confined to smart meters alone. However, this kind of balanced view will invariably be lost in the fear mongering and extreme positions people are likely to take.

But are the healthcare concerns genuine? This article based on research from the Electric Power Research Institute suggests that the is no credible health risk from smart meters. The study concluded that the impact could be of the order of 0.6% of the FCC limits. This doesn’t stop people from choosing to believe that smart meters are dangerous, although any doubt that exists within the medical community applies to all electronic and radio frequency using devices, including mobile phones, for example. Especially mobile phones, if anything. But enough anecdotal evidence points to the tendency of consumers to believe what they want to believe.  

The Balanced Arguments

This piece is a well articulated outline of the specific benefits of smart grid and smart meter systems, comparisons & costs, outages, theft control, conservation and energy management.

This paper by Passiv Systems highlights the disparity between some of the numbers (providers claim to deliver almost 20% savings on advanced heating and cooling solutions, but almost 50% of the population doesn’t not know or understand how to program their existing heating & cooling solutions. Based on a sample size of 25, Passiv Systems tries to bridge this disparity. It concludes that 84% people are motivated by savings while 16% are swayed by comfort. The study unsurprisingly concludes that the Passiv Systems solution can deliver very good results. But take that how you will.  

Apart from everything else, the significant challenge of financing the home improvement style projects involved in putting in any smart systems is a very real one.  Which is why tiny examples such as this, in Camden, Maine, where the funding problem is being addressed, fill us with hope, as it ties in with one of the key recommendations we’ve made in our (soon to be published) report.  


Do let us know about examples, anecdotes and research you might be undertaking if you’d like us to talk about it, in this blog. 


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