Smart meter energy data: delivering on a public interest purpose

Smart Meter Energy Data Public Interest Advisory Group

The rollout of smart meters across the UK represents a major £11bn national investment paid for by customers – but there is a risk that the wider societal benefit of more granular customer-side energy data may not be delivered.

Market actors with customer consent have access to granular smart meter consumer data. But as things stand, neither government nor regulators will have access to equivalent data.  They may therefore struggle to achieve proper oversight of and insight into our energy markets – just at the point where those markets are undergoing deep and rapid change.  In demand-side terms, there is therefore a danger that government and the regulator are at risk of 'flying blind' into the energy transition.

This is one major finding of the Smart Meter Energy Data Public Interest Advisory Group (PIAG) project, the conclusions and recommendations of which will be set out during the PIAG Phase 1 Final Report launch on Monday, 22 July 2019.  Led by two charities – Sustainability First and the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) – and backed by a multi-partner group of stakeholders from across government, industry, and universities, the PIAG has for the last 18 months sought to chart how smart meter data can properly be accessed for public interest purposes while also protecting consumer privacy.

Public interest use-cases, routes to data, and criteria and principles

During this time, PIAG has published a series of papers and reports, all of which are available at our microsite,  Sustainability First and CSE have also facilitated four multi-partner workshops with stakeholders from across the smart meter energy data landscape, iterating the Group's thinking throughout.  One output of this process has been the identification by stakeholders of a number of public interest use-cases for smart meter energy data:

1.National and sub-national domestic sector energy statistics enabling wider participation in policy dialogue;

2.Local-level energy system planning such as infrastructure and intervention planning and monitoring;

3.Data for analysis and modelling to support policy making, research and insight, for example to assess the distributional impacts of policies during the energy transition;

4.Service innovation, development, and testing of early stage designs / algorithms.

From here, the PIAG outlined some possible routes to the data.  Noting the paramount need to protect consumer privacy, the Group sets out how a 'trusted processor' could be put in place to create anonymised and aggregated outputs from consumers' input data, in line with practices already adopted by other sectors that handle sensitive customer data.  PIAG also reviewed the consumer research literature to better understand how consumers might potentially view access to their smart meter data for a wider public and societal benefit.

In doing so, the PIAG has developed a set of criteria and principles that point to how improved and safeguarded consumer consumption data could be accessed both near- and longer-term, while also enabling a public policy benefit to be obtained from the significant investment in smart metering being paid for by customers.

PIAG conclusions and recommendations

Access to smart meter data for public policy purposes is essential to avoid policy makers 'flying blind' into the energy transition;

Government should draw on existing arrangements used in other sectors to enable access to smart meter data for a public interest purpose while protecting privacy;

Decisions on the types of uses of smart meter data that are in the public interest should sit with government or the regulator and should not rely on securing the consent of individual consumers;

All stakeholders should continue to develop the evidence-base for 'public interest' access.  This will be a continued focus for Sustainability First and CSE in Phase 2 of the PIAG project;

•In the immediate term, energy suppliers should continue (as now) to provide what will become more accurate and more granular meter-data to BEIS or perhaps the ONS.  Central bodies ought to make best use of existing smart-meter data-sources, and in the short- to medium term consider how to take forward measures for improved data access;

•Looking to the long term, the priority is keeping options open, including – as the regulatory framework develops – policymakers in BEIS and Ofgem identifying what future rule changes could permit access to smart meter data for a public interest purpose while safeguarding customer privacy.  It is too soon to call which might in the end turn out to be the most appropriate route – perhaps via energy suppliers, via the energy networks or via central industry bodies.  For now however, it is important to keep options open and to avoid closing doors.

Phase 1 Final Report Launch

PIAG members will discuss these conclusions and recommendations in greater detail at the launch of the PIAG Phase 1 final report.  We will be joined by an exciting set of speakers including Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation at the UK Statistics Authority and Laura Sandys, Chair of the Energy Data Taskforce, who will situate the PIAG's work in a wider context.

PIAG members will then take part in panel discussions outlining their thoughts on the report and its findings, as well as next steps.  Participants will include colleagues from BEIS and elsewhere in government, Ofgem, Citizens Advice, code administrators, energy companies, and the UCL Smart Energy Research Lab (SERL) – with wider discussion from the floor.

You can find all the PIAG papers here:  PIAG Phase 1 members in June 2019 are as follows:

PIAG Members – June 2019 (*denotes funding member)

BEIS; Citizens Advice; Committee on Climate Change; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG); Energy Networks Association; Energy UK; Energy Saving Trust; Energy Systems Catapult*; Elexon*; Electralink; Greater London Authority; National Grid ESO*; National Infrastructure Commission; Northern Powergrid*; Ofgem*; Office for National Statistics; Ombudsman Services; Scottish Government; Smart DCC (Smart Data Communications Company)*; Smart Energy GB; TechUK; Welsh Government; Which?; UK Statistics Authority; Cambridge Architecture Research Ltd; University of Edinburgh / Teddinet; UCL Smart Energy Research Lab*; University of Exeter; University of Reading; UKERC; Xoserve; Centre for Sustainable Energy; Sustainability First.