Co Cork towns to be among the first area to benefit from smart meter project

Co Cork towns to be among the first area to benefit from smart meter project
Smart meters communicate directly with ESB Networks to provide up-to-date usage info - negating the need for estimated bills

Bandon and the surrounding areas in Co Cork are set to be among the first areas in the country used for the rollout of Ireland’s €1.2bn State smart meter project.

The rollout of meters is expected to start in a series of Cork districts, together with Portlaoise in County Laois, from mid-September.

The areas in Cork directly affected include Bandon, Macroom, Clonakilty, Kinsale, Blarney, Carrigaline and their surrounding areas.

More than 5,000 customers in the Laois and Cork areas have already been contacted with regard to the upgrade.

The enormous project, first mooted in the late 2000s, will see all electricity meters around the country - roughly 2.4 million units, replaced with smart meters - by appointment. No charge is to be levied on householders for the upgrade, with the project funded by existing utility standing charges.

Smart meters communicate directly with ESB Networks to provide up-to-date usage info - negating the need for estimated bills. They also, in theory, allow customers to monitor their power usage in order to better control their bills and choose the most beneficial offer from suppliers.

The project is a joint endeavour on the part of ESB Networks Ireland as tasked by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), and has been mandated for under European law. Along with the purported benefits to the customer, moving to smart meters is aimed at reducing the country’s carbon footprint via an increase in energy efficiency and a consequent hike in the use of renewable portals such as wind farms.

However, some concerns regarding privacy and the protection of citizens’ data have been raised in privacy circles regarding how the meters will store data.

Fred Logue, a solicitor specialising in data protection said: “It’s about striking a balance between the obvious benefits of smart metering and the right to privacy of individuals.

Under projects like this, the people charged with the data collation can figure out how many people are in a home, when they’re home, when they’re in the shower, or when the washing machine is being used.

“There have to be strict safeguards regarding how that data is used and who has control over it,” Mr Logue added.

Some uncertainty had existed as to whether or not a customer can choose to opt out of the new service, with opting in being the default mandated by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

ESB Networks told the Irish Examiner that customers who choose to not receive the upgrade their meter will be engaged with “in order to understand their issues and provide reassurance”. The spokesman said:

“ESB Networks will not proceed with the replacement but will engage with the customer later as the rollout continues, and the benefits of the new services are better understood."

“A Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) is currently being finalised for submission to the Data Protection Commission and will be published on our website,” they added.

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