Do smart meters change security for Canadian energy providers ?

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A survey on Advanced Metering Infrastructure

For many years utility providers have been concerned about power quality and the economy of the power system; however, 21st century technologies such as Smart Grids (SG) have brought new challenges of security and privacy of information. Smart Grids modernize electrical grids with Information Technology to maximize the efficiency and reliability of the system. This paper introduces the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) technology and its current status as the foundation of SG, which is responsible for collecting all the data and information from loads and consumers.

In Ontario, Canada, as one of the pioneers in AMI deployment, 4.7 million Smart Meters have been commissioned and 3.8 million Ontarians were being billed on Time Of Use system as of February 2012. AMI is a configured infrastructure that includes Smart Meters, Meter Data Management Systems, extended function software, and communication networks. Smart Meters communicate bi-directionally, sending meter data and accepting commands from the power supply network and can form home area networks providing more functionality or intelligent sub-metering for multi- tenanted residences. At the provider end, the system should store and analyse the data for billing purposes as well as managing demand response, consumption profiles, and real-time reactions to events in the grid.

AMI power grids represent a new security challenge as user privacy and cyber attacks are added to the existing issues of physical attacks and power theft. Smart Meters are capable of collecting information with higher frequencies than conventional meters with manual collection. Current technologies even allow for measurements every minute. Initial AMI projects deployed in Ontario sustain readings at intervals of 5 to 60 min.

By analysing Smart Meter data, it is possible to perform ‘‘consumer profiling’’ with an alarmingly high accuracy such as the number of residents, duration of occupancy, type of appliances, and security systems. By profiling usage it is also possible to identify resident behaviour and more with only 15-minute measurement intervals. Security is consequently significantly different with AMI to conventional meters.

The privacy implications of AMI will be better understood as it becomes more common. The governance of smart grid data collection is currently being discussed. In Canada, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has issued relevant guidelines. These guidelines include the following seven “Privacy by Design” principles aimed at ensuring freedom of choice and personal control over one’s information, as well as gaining a sustainable competitive advantage for organizations: 

To mitigate the risk of cyber-attack AMI power grids should implement measures to ensure information confidentiality, integrity, availability, and accountability, however the distributed nature of the network presents unique challenges. The threat of power theft has changed as AMI overcomes meter weaknesses but increases the risk of data tampering, as data is now vulnerable when stored and transmitted as well as at collection. These new forms of risk may require specific efforts as the standard approaches to security from either power or computing are not entirely well suited to securing AMI. For example, controlling physical access is impossible as meters are generally installed in insecure locations, the privacy solutions are retroactive and often zero-sum on an augmented system of coordinated security policies across interconnected systems with different stakeholders and interests. AMI is becoming established in Canada and adapting to new security challenges is of key importance to its success.

Advanced metering infrastructure use is expanding in Canada. Energy providers should address the added risks concerning customer data privacy, data security and cyber attacks.