T&D World Magazine

City of Santa Clara Utility to Use Encrypted AMI to Address Security Concerns

Privacy and security concerns of utility customers about advanced electric meters are being addressed by the City of Santa Clara’s municipal electric utility prior to introducing advanced meters in 2011 and 2012. Silicon Valley Power (SVP) says its SVP Meter Connect data security will be on a par with the encryption level of sensitive government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We share our customers’ concern about both protecting their privacy and assuring security of electricity usage data,” said John Roukema, director of SVP. “We have a very high level of confidence in the advanced metering infrastructure and network technology that we are going to deploy in Santa Clara, starting with our business community in 2011 and at residences in 2012.”

SVP Meter Connect’s advanced meters are manufactured in North Carolina by Elster Group, which has over 4.5 million advanced meters successfully deployed worldwide. Tropos Networks of Sunnyvale, California, and Elster together will provide the networking and infrastructure necessary to transmit encrypted information from the meters to SVP.

SVP Meter Connect also contracts with Milton Security Group to analyze and evaluate the privacy and security measures installed in the SVP Meter Connect program.

“Each advanced meter has a unique identification number,” said Jim McMurry, President and CEO of Milton Security Group. “The customer ID and meter address cannot be identified until that encrypted data is safely inside the secure data control center of the utility.”

The wireless equipment and network installed for the SVP Meter Connect program will also provide residents with free outdoor access to public Wi-Fi. The public Wi-Fi data streams, or channels, are not encrypted by SVP and will be completely segregated from the highly encrypted and separate advanced meter data management system.

“We will not install the advanced meters until we are absolutely certain they are accurate, secure and safe,” said Larry Owens, SVP manager of customer service. “Elster and SVP will validate meter accuracy by testing both the new meters going in and the old meters coming out. Security protocols are state-of-the-art and continually evaluated.”

SVP’s disclosure of its security measures comes as a customer survey found that privacy was a concern even though over two-thirds of SVP customers believe advanced meters are a “good idea.” The survey of Santa Clara customers was conducted by RKS Research of New York.

“Our customers are remarkably well-informed about the smart grid,” said Owens, adding that nearly 90 percent of SVP customers are familiar with advanced electric and water meters. Local knowledge of advanced electric metering in Santa Clara contrasts sharply with a national Harris Poll taken 11 months ago showing that 63 percent of Americans did not know what a “smart” or “advanced” meter was.

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