Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Energy Data Privacy

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Smart meters, Zigbee, and other forms of IT are digitizing and transforming energy services. On the plus side, we’ll know much more about how much we’re using and be able to design better incentives to achieve energy efficiency goals. On the minus side, there is the nettlesome issue of data privacy. As Tom Tansy of Fat Spaniel web services for PV energy innovation discusses on his blog:

Energy data privacy is a hot topic in the world of renewable energy. Here’s why: for a typical commercial solar power plant, there are many entities with a vested interest in the project. Here’s a typical list:

  • Plant builder
  • Plant financier and/or owner
  • Plant operator
  • Energy purchaser
  • Building occupant
  • Utility regulatory authority
  • Environmental authority
  • Research institute or other subsidizing party
  • Component supplier
  • Other agency contracted to provide technical support

    Given this environment, the majority of these entities understand that data and information sharing is critical to the success of a project, and therefore agree to do so. However, as time goes on and more projects are completed, the players can change and some entities may claim special interest. This is where problems can arise.

    The key point is:

    Who owns the data? Is it the contractor who purchased the monitoring service and installed the monitoring instruments? Is it the PPA financier who paid for and owns the plant? Is it the building occupant who bought the electricity that was generated? Is it the utility company that subsidized the plant’s construction? Is it the public who’s tax dollars paid for the subsidy that enabled the construction of the power plant that produced the energy? The tale reads like a Dr. Seuss riddle and the answers are inconclusive at best.

    So who owns my water usage data? Who owns the kWH electricity data for our new Ross Business School facility? We can think of this in terms of privacy, access rights, data accuracy, ownership, etc. It’s messy. More soon.


    Author: nigelpm

    Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

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