The right way to do a smart grid project

Here's one way to head off privacy concerns over smart grid projects: Spell out in advance what information will be gathered and how it will be treated.

One example comes from an effort called Envision: Charlotte. It is spearheaded by Duke Energy and encompasses buildings in the downtown area of Charlotte, N.C. The Smart Energy Now Program, which is the part of the initiative that installs smart meters in buildings, includes the following agreement:

"Participation in this pilot requires that the customer agree to disclosure of the customer’s energy usage data such that the Company (meaning Duke Energy) can provide aggregated community energy information through digital displays in the main lobby of participating buildings and other public areas. No individual customer data will be disclosed to anyone other than the participating customer......Under this pilot the Company (Duke) shall have the right to install the necessary metering equipment to record customer usage on a near real-time basis.

Thus anyone participating in Envision:Charlotte knows their energy use is monitored and knows how it will be used. Duke Energy Carolinas recently got an OK from the state to go ahead with the Smart Energy Now pilot. Digital smart meters and computer routers are now being installed in large buildings within Charlotte's downtown. Plans are to install displays in the buildings that will let companies monitor energy use, often on a floor-by-floor basis. Officials expect this to happen by fall.

The overarching Envision: Charlotte initiative is billed as a first-of-its-kind public-private environmental partnership to reduce energy use in commercial buildings.The goal is to reduce energy use by 20% in what amounts to about 12.7 million ft2 of office space. Plan officials say the 20% reduction should avoid the generation of an estimated 220,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases between now and 2016.

It costs building owners nothing to participate. Duke Energy and Cisco Inc., which is also putting computer equipment into the deal, expect to recoup the $5.3 million in upfront investments through the reduced energy use in the various properties included in the environmental program. Duke says it is also using what it learns rolling out Envision: Charlotte to bring similar plans to other regions in which it operates.

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