Customer Privacy Concerns as a Barrier to Sharing Data about Energy Use in Smart Local Energy Systems: A Rapid Realist Review

Authors: Vigurs, C.; Maidment, C.; Fell, M.; and Shipworth, D.

Published in:  Energies 2021, 14, 1285.

Date Published: 26 February 2021


The purpose of this review is to investigate the nature of privacy concerns in the context of smart local energy systems (SLES) to understand how SLES providers can minimize both user concerns, and cause for concern, around privacy. We conducted a rapid realist review and thematic framework analysis against Bronfenbrenner’s socio–ecological model to understand privacy concerns in different contexts. A common privacy concern was that sharing detailed energy use data had the potential to reveal information about home life, and to intrude upon people’s sense of autonomy, choice, and control. Evidence suggests that people are willing to accept new data sharing technologies if the benefits of doing so are clear, anticipated, and mutually beneficial. Building trust, through increasing knowledge and understanding, was a mechanism for overcoming privacy concerns, but this was mediated by the organization providing the information. Non-profit organizations were more trusted to ensure appropriate safeguards to privacy were in place. One key barrier to participation with good supporting evidence was that people could resist perceived intrusions on their privacy. This could be actively resisted by refusing to install data collection technologies or passively by non-participation in adapting energy use behaviours: both of which are necessary for SLES to achieve their goals of managing energy demand and building resilience in smart grids

Keywords: rapid realist review; smart local energy system; barriers; privacy

Insights for EnergyREV:

Our rapid realist review explores privacy concerns related to smart local energy systems (SLES), and how SLES providers might overcome these concerns or their causes. From these results we outline a set of guiding principles to encourage the data sharing needed in effective SLES, based around engagement, collaboration, empowerment, transparency, and continuous improvement.