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Today in Cleantech

Ontario, Canada has what’s arguably the fastest-moving effort in the world to link up smart meters, time-of-use pricing and residential customers — and that means it’s had to deal with issues of energy data privacy longer than most. Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario privacy commissioner, is speaking at eMeter’s smart energy leadership conference in San Francisco this morning to lay out just how Ontario’s “Privacy by Design” system might help other states and regions — like California — handle the issue of privacy. Indeed, Cavoukian said that San Diego Gas & Electric would partner with her office to instill Privacy by Design into its new variable pricing program — a first for California. PbD is too complex to get into here, but Cavoukian stressed the need for a “user-centric” approach to put transparency and accountability terms clearly in front of customers. She also warned that aggregate data, stripped of personal identifiers, can be used in all kinds of data mining and analysis operations — but that “you have to think clearly about what that involves, and whether it can be tracked back to an individual user.” Companies like Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Cisco, Schneider Electric and eMeter — and startups like Tendril, EnergyHub, Control4, Onzo, AlertMe, OpenPeak and many more — all want to get access to smart meter data and utility “backhaul” data to deliver energy management and automation services to homeowners. But that data also needs to be protected to avoid abuse, from unwanted data mining for marketing purposes to warrantless surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Just how the data is collected, who “owns” it, and how it’s managed are all tricky questions — and regulations are only starting to catch up to technology on this front. Stay tuned for more — I’m doing a report on California’s new proposed energy data privacy ruling (PDF), and welcome comments on your opinion.