The smart grids task force and expert groups

Smart Grids are becoming an eligible alternative for the modernisation of the energy distribution networks. Based on Big Data technologies, they suggest an interesting operational model for both end consumers and suppliers, with the climate change as background motivation.

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Smart Grids Task Force was first established by the European Commission by the end of 2009. It was tasked to advice and provide guidance on the future policy and regulatory stages within the energy sector, towards the implementation at a European level of the Smart Grid solutions. Within the term falls a brand-new concept of energy distribution networks based on Big Data technologies for the creation of more efficient distribution networks. The development of the Smart Grids is one of the consequences of the mandates stemming from Directive 2006/32/EC on energy end-use efficiency and energy services.

The Smart Grids Task Force has created a number of “Expert Groups” whose aim is to safeguard data protection rules compliance in the development of the Smart Grids at a European level. In this matter, the Smart Grids prove challenging to some extent regarding the protection of end consumers’ personal data. It must be borne in mind that, since Smart Grids often entail the use of Smart Meters, these solutions can bring about personal data processing which may uncover certain aspects of end consumers intimacy thereby causing adverse consequences (i.e. price discrimination, behavioural advertising, household security).

Expert Group 2 published a paper in 2011 analysing and proposing a series of regulatory recommendations regarding different aspects of data protection in the implementation of Smart Grids such as data security, data privacy and data handling. As regards data privacy, recommendations head towards, on the one hand, a clear definition of the different roles played by the Smart Grids involved subjects (e.g. end consumers, network operators and energy suppliers) and, on the other hand, the settling of standard forms for the gaining of personal data subjects’ consent, thereby being enabled to carry out personal data processing.

Among the principles inspiring the regulation on the development of Smart Grids stands out the principle of “privacy by design”. This principle has been analysed in various opinions ((1)-see below)  of the Article 29 Working Party. It pursues that in the design of new technologies which operate over personal data, those new technologies should be respectful to the principle of personal data protection, not only by means of the setting of security measures, but also by way of minimizing the volume of personal data processed. This principle has been developed by the Commission Recommendation of 9 March 2012 ((2)-see below).

Finally, it is to be highlighted that the Smart Grids Task Force has pushed forward the elaboration by Expert Group 2 of Data Protection Impact Assessment Template to be done by personal data controllers and processors in the field of Smart Grids. Despite it is not mandatory yet, the Data Protection Impact Assessment Template is intended to steadily be introduced into the sector as a mechanism of avoiding future liabilities for data protection infringements. Thus, a sort of upfront control system is settled by National Data Protection Authorities.

(1) Opinion 168 and Opinion 183 inter alia.

(2) Commission Recommendation of 9 March 2012 on preparations for the roll-out of smart metering systems (2012/148/EU).

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