Smart Grid: Energy Usage Data Access 


In 2013, the CPUC created rules and processes for customers to grant third parties permission to access their smart meter data.  The CPUC is also in the midst of determining rules for third party access to a customer’s energy data without customer permission.  Data access was established by the CPUC Privacy Rules, which adopted the Fair Information Practice Principles


Energy Data Access with Consumer Consent

In compliance with the CPUC’s Privacy Rules Decision, the utilities filed Applications seeking authorization to allow customers to grant third parties direct access to their energy use data via the “utility backhaul.”

In September 2013, the CPUC issued a Decision authorizing the utilities to grant third parties access to energy usage data with customer consent for such services as energy management and solar installation, using the following process: 

  • Customer initiates authorization by selecting a registered third party from a drop-down list. 
  • Customer submits appropriate written authorization. 
  • Utility provides third party access to historical data from 24 hours to 5 days. 
  • Subsequent access includes updates of data on a lagged basis of up to 24 hours. 

The utilities are required to follow specific guidelines when transferring customer data to third parties in order to protect customers’ privacy. Implementation of the program will cost an additional $19.4 million for PG&E customers and $9.1 million for Edison customers. Customers retain the right to suspend a third party’s access to their data. This access is separate and distinct from the federal “Green Button” program, which allows customers to download their own energy use data, and subsequently share the information with third parties. 


Energy Data Access without Consumer Consent  

In November 2012, the CPUC issued a Ruling inviting stakeholder input on its Briefing Paper, “Energy Data Center,” which contemplated the need to consolidate all energy usage data available from smart meters in a central repository in order for third parties to easily access customer-specific and aggregated data. The Briefing Paper proposed to house the data center at a University of California campus or other independent location.  In January 2013, the CPUC held extensive workshops to address the issues identified in the Briefing Paper as well as those raised by stakeholders. 

As a result of the workshops, the CPUC turned its focus to shaping “use case” scenarios, (i.e., third party data requests), to develop protocols governing access to customer energy use data. The 12 use cases developed represent third party requester types, such as local governments, research institutions, government agencies, non-profit environmental groups, energy efficiency contractors, and building owners, and managers.  In July 2013, PG&E took the lead on issuing a Workshop Report describing the results of the collaborative workshop process.

The CPUC is expected to rely upon its foundational Privacy Rules Decision in guiding third party access to customer energy usage data.


ORA Position

ORA supports customer access and management of their own energy usage data so they may benefit from substantial ratepayer investment in smart meters.  Accordingly, ORA supports the CPUC’s September 2013 decision authorizing utilities to create programs enabling customers to grant or suspend third party access to their smart meter data.

See ORA’s August 6, 2013 Comments on the Proposed Decision for Consumer Data Access.

See ORA’s August 28, 2012 Reply Comments on the Consolidated Applications for Consumer Data Access.

See ORA’s August 12, 2013 Reply Comments on the Proposed Decision for Consumer Data Access.

ORA also supports access to energy usage data by third parties without customer consent in order to further the state’s climate change goals, as long as customers’ personally identifying information is protected according to current state and federal privacy rules and laws. ORA urges the CPUC to create an evidentiary record which examines the benefits and potential privacy implications of third party data access. In particular, ORA advocates that the CPUC develop a common transparent data access process that:

  • Limits disclosure to aggregated and anonymized data, given easy access to technology which can decipher aggregated data to reveal individual information. 
  • Requires third parties to pay for data to be used for activities not related to the delivery of utility energy service. 
  • Discloses details about any customer identifiable data that has already been provided to other governmental entities, including the nature, purpose and extent of such disclosure.
  • Invites technical and legal experts to review and provide input into program implementation and practices.
  • Requires strict reporting requirements for program implementation and data security with a near-term program evaluation.

The CPUC should open a new proceeding to address costs and cost recovery issues.

See ORA’s July 29, 2013 Opening Comments on the Workshop Report.

See ORA August 5, 2013 Reply Comments on the Workshop Report. 

ORA does not support the creation of a Data Energy Center as a clearing house for energy usage data because it is duplicative of current CPUC efforts to distribute energy use data directly from utility databases and is costly for ratepayers.

See ORA’s December 17, 2012 Opening Comments on the Energy Data Center.

See ORA’s January 7, 2013 Reply Comments on the Energy Data Center.


Proceeding Status

A CPUC Proposed Decision on the “Use Case” scenarios is anticipated in early 2014.

See the Proceeding docket for “Utility Backhaul” process for obtaining data with customer consent.

See the Proceeding docket for “Use Cases” without customer consent, under the Smart Grid docket.



Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal and technical memos: “Legal Considerations for Smart Grid Energy Data Sharing” and “Technical Issues with Anonymization & Aggregation of Detailed Energy Usage Data as Methods for Protecting Customer Privacy.” 

Center for Democracy and Technology's Smart Grid page