In this, the final of our four-part series on smart meters and solar PV arrays (start here), we’re going to address one of three dangers HelioPowerCEO Scott Gordon revealed to us about smart meters: How they are infringing on our privacy.
We’re going to assume that no one reading this is doing anything illegal in their homes that they want to hide. But Americans view privacy as one of our basic rights. While the right to privacy is not expressly outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the fourth amendment does guarantee us “privacy of the person and possessions as against unreasonable searches.”
Of course, our founding fathers never could have envisioned digital meters that can record and share every detail of our electric usage. (Mostly because they didn’t envision electricity!) But this is exactly what smart meters do. Why does the electric company want that information? On the surface, the utilities claim that they’re collecting this data in order to make us smarter consumers and conservationists. Armed with the knowledge of when, where, and how we use electricity, we are better able to reduce our usage and lower our electric bills.
In reality, there is a lot more they can do with the information. As Gordon explains: “Every time you use an electrical device, it draws a specific amount of power, different from other devices. The smart meter sees your life and the way you use electricity in 15-minute increments. It can see how many loads of laundry you do each week, when you’re home, when you leave, if you work from home, if you have a pool, how many refrigerators you have … I can literally build a profile of you and your life.”
Laws prohibit the electric company from sharing this information without your permission. But what if they offered you 20 percent off your bill to permit them to share the information with marketing partners? “Many people, in this economy, would take them up on it,” Gordon notes.
If you thought targeted Facebook ads were scary in a sort of “Big Brother is watching” sense, imagine this type of marketing going on across your home, through mail, email, cell phone — any avenue advertisers choose to reach you.
Protect Your Privacy with Solar
When you’re connected to a home solar PV array, your solar system is the only power signature the smart meter can read. All your other devices draw their power from the solar system. “Everything else is literally hiding behind a smokescreen that is your solar system,” Gordon explains.
For years, Gordon said, the driving factor behind installing a solar array has been to save money. “Saving the environment and being eco-conscious is nice, but for the most part, people are concerned about lowering their electric bills.”
Now, smart meters introduce a whole new reason to go solar. For 10 to 16 hours of the day, depending on the time of year, your solar PV array is supporting your right to privacy. (Read more in HelioPower’s 10 Things About Smart Meters and Solar.)