U.K. Sets Smart Meter Rules to Protect Customer Privacy

The U.K. government published a set of rules for its smart-metering program aimed at protecting the privacy of customers as it prepares to install the devices in 30 million homes and businesses by 2019.

Under the new rules, consumers will be able to say how often their energy supplier can access data about their consumption of gas and electricity, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said today in an e-mailed statement. Suppliers won’t be able to use consumption data for marketing unless given explicit consent, the department said.

“The consumer comes first,” Energy and Climate Change Minister Sandip Verma said in the statement. “That’s why we are tackling issues such as privacy, security, consumer protection and communications now, working with industry and consumer groups to make sure we get this right.”

The government plans a mass rollout of 53 million electricity and gas smart meters in 30 million homes and businesses from 2014 through 2019. The aim is to cut energy consumption and carbon emissions by using devices that can tell householders how much energy different appliances are using, and how much it’s costing at any given time.

Under the rules published today, suppliers will also have to give customers regular reminders about how they can change the choices they have already made. The government will also request annual reports from the biggest suppliers about their progress in rolling out smart meters across the nation.

The installation and running costs of the smart meters will be paid for by consumers through their utility bills, largely with the “Big Six” utilities: Electricite de France SA, EON, SSE Plc, Centrica, RWE AG’s Npower unit and Iberdrola SA’s Scottish Power division. The government estimates the program will end up paying for itself, with the 11.7 billion pounds ($18.9 billion) of investment resulting in 18.7 billion pounds of energy savings.

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