The new European legislative environment changes the relationship between users and their online data. Part of this change is represented by users gaining more control over who and when gets access to what type of personal information. In this context, the Danish and the Estonian national electricity and gas transmission system operators are developing a project that aims at optimizing energy consumption through the monitoring of users’ energy usage data.
In order to find out more about the idea, I spoke to André Bryde Alnor. André is part of Energinet – Denmark’s independent public enterprise in charge of this project – and is responsible for the development of the data access system for private consumers and companies.
What is the problem the project aims to solve
The number of electric cars’ purchases increases and many often run on energy from coal plants, rather than green energy. At the same time, we spend between 400 and 600 million Danish kroner a year to ensure power plants are ready and to turn them on once we need to top up because we do not have enough energy in the system.
Historically, we had power plants based on coal. It was easy to burn more coal when we needed more power. As we are trying to get our old society onboardedes on wind and solar energy and become greener, this option goes away.
In this case, we only have energy production when it’s snowing and when the sun is shining. We can no longer burn extra coal to complement gaps in energy production. In order to solve this, we need to get energy customers like you or companies, to be more flexible. This could be changed with a data-sharing service as ours.
Why partnership with Elering?
If I develop an app in Denmark, I only get to collect data of Danish customers. The population of countries like Estonia and Denmark is 1,3 respectively 5.8 milion people. This makes it very difficult for developers to prosper with a business case based on a model of low transaction costs combined with a high number of transactions. The idea is to expand the concept all over Europe.
What is the proposed solution?
In the energy sector we have a whole setup for asking companies to start coal plants, in order to add extra capacity when connected to the grid. The same rules can be applied to electrical grids. That would be done through the aggregator, a third party you have given data access to. This is basically an entity that is also registered in the energy market and could sell services back to us. The third party aggregates the energy data you give access to and decides, for example, when your car charges. They will do so via direct communication with the charger and then they will pay you back some money for your flexibility as a user.
How does it work?
As the Internet of Things concept matures and more and more home devices get connected to the grid, we suddenly get the chance to automate a lot of processes. We can actually pay you, the consumer, to have your house using a little less energy: it can be reducing the lightning, heating a little bit less from a heat pump or reducing the period an electric car is charging for.
At one point, people who are very focused on being as green as possible will get apps that tell them when the best time to recharge car batteries are, or to do laundry, because there is a lot of wind energy in the system. These apps would also be able to say “Now’s a really bad time to recharge your electric car’s batteries, there’s no energy in the system.” This would get some people to change their behaviour according to the information they get about available green energy in the system.
In a pilot project done last year, people received around 500 dkk a year for having their electric car part of this experiment: its consumption was monitored and the car adjusted to charge only when general consumption was low and enough ready energy was in the grid.
We want to ask you to charge your car when electricity is ready available – that may be an hour or two later. Many people wouldn’t care much about when car is being recharged, as long as it it ready to be used the next morning.
What kind of data would consumers share?
The basis of all data would be the metadata on household meter: the address, the settings of the meter (hourly/quarterly/yearly). Then there would be some data about the consumer as a person: the electricity contract, your name and social security number. Finally, we have the meta-data itself which is consumer per hour/minutes. One can choose which data to share with 3rd parties and give consent for processing. Obviously, the social security number is something one wouldn’t easily share, whereas the metadata or the address are details people would be more willing to share.
Are there risks associated with mishandling such data?
Yes, there are. That’s of course, outside our control . We have an agreement with the 3rd party on how to handle individuals’ data, in terms of rules and regulations. The individual also has an agreement with the 3rd party. If the 3rd party sells the individuals’ data further or uses it past the initial purposes, it would be a breach of the contract with the individual, not with us.
If we find out about it, we might decide that this entity is not allowed to be a third party anymore. But we wouldn’t be able to ensure the data will not be further mishandled. It is therefore also the individual’s responsibility to check what type of third party are they giving access to. Of course, at all time, the individual is able to withdraw their consent.
Data Control comes with responsibilities
There is also a connection with GDPR and with the MyData principle. Electricity data can also be centered around the consumer, rather than just something that companies deal with, on behalf of the consumer.
GDPR ensures a lot of extra freedom to the data owner, but also puts the decision in their hands. The individual is empowered to choose what happens to their data, give or not consent to access data and all of a sudden it is the individual who has to ensure that they give their data to the right party.
How do you ensure minimum risks for data mishandling?
We have some responsibilities. We need to ensure special identification systems, to assure that you are who you say you are when you give access to your data. We also need to have a very good contract with the companies wanting to have a data delegation service.
Much of the discussion revolves around enabling the customer to give informed consent. We need to find the right balance when we provide information – not too little but not too much either. Having enough information in the contract, but also making it so short so the customer would actually read and care about the content. It is a balancing act.
What is your advice for citizens dedicated to make the planet a greener place, but who are also afraid their house might be spying on them?
Common sense is one good piece of advice to be applied in all parts of the community. There are a lot of services in the energy sector that may turn people to become greener. When thinking about giving away parts of their data or device access, people should always think twice.
Does the service provider ensure the security of data? Do they use the data only to what you agreed to? Bluntly, connecting everything to Wifi and go Full Smart IoT ? As a private person, I would probably think twice because those I give data access to could take control of my life.