by Lily Martinet
A battle is raging in France over the deployment of a neon green electricity meter nicknamed Linky. Its opponents criticise Linky as a frivolous and useless project imposed on French citizens. Linky is a “smart meter” capable of receiving and transmitting data on energy consumption times and levels by using electronic communication1Commission Recommendation (EU) No 2012/148/EU of 9 March 2012 on preparations for the roll-out of smart metering systems, Definitions 3 (b).. The deployment of smart meters has been presented as a step forward towards the implementation of a smart grid, a prerequisite to a smart city. A smart grid is, according to the European Commission, “an upgraded energy network to which two-way digital communication between the supplier and consumer, smart metering and monitoring and controls have been added.”2Ibid., Definitions 3 (a). A wide range of arguments is put forward for the implementation of a smart grid. The smart grid is supposed to ease integration of renewable energy sources, to promote energy efficiency, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to help satisfy new energy needs such as charging electric vehicles.3Raimi, K. T., & Carrico, A. R. (2016, February 01). Understanding and beliefs about smart energy technology. Energy Research & Social Science, 12, 68-74. 68. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2015.12.018.
Smart meters are also presented as a tool to “empower consumers” and assist their “active participation in the electricity supply market.”4Commission Recommendation (EU) No 2012/148/EU, par. (1). By informing consumers of their energy consumption, smart meters are expected to foster behavioral changes, and to facilitate the consumer’s access to competitive offers and energy efficiency advice.5European Task Force for the Implementation of Smart Grids into the European Internal Market. (2012). Mission and Work Programme, 4. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/mission_and_workprogramme.pdf For energy suppliers and network operators, smart meters stifle fraud, such as meter tampering, they also increase the accuracy of billing and allow remote meter reading, which reduces labor costs. Furthermore, the flow of data recorded by smart meters should open up electricity markets and promote competition between energy suppliers.6Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council No 2009/72/EC of 13 July 2009 concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity and repealing Directive 2003/54/EC, article 33. This is the main reason why the European Union has supported the deployment of smart meters. The 2009 Directive concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity has even set for the Member States a target of at least 80% of consumers equipped with smart meters in 2020 if the assessment of all the long-term costs and benefits to the market and the individual consumer is positive.7 Ibid., Annex I (2).
In France, the deployment of smart meters started in 2007, when the Commission de régulation de l’énergie (CRE) approved a pilot project.8Communication de la Commission de régulation de l’énergie du 6 juin 2007 sur l’évolution du comptage électrique basse tension de faible puissance (≤ 36 kVA). In 2009 and 2010, a law and a decree endorsed the idea of deploying smart meters.9Loi n°2009-967 du 3 août 2009 de programmation relative à la mise en œuvre du Grenelle de l’environnement and décret n°2010-1022 du 31 août 2010 relatif aux dispositifs de comptage sur les réseaux publics d’électricité en application du IV de l’article 4 de la loi n°2000-108 du 10 février 2000 relative à la modernisation et au développement du service public de l’électricité. From 2010 to 2011, a trial of Linky meters took place in two regions of France.10Cour des comptes. (2018). Rapport Annuel, 248. Retrieved from https://www.ccomptes.fr/sites/default/files/2018-01/07-compteurs-communicants-Linky-Tome-1.pdf The CRE concluded from the results of this trial to generalize Linky to all consumers.11 Délibération de la Commission de régulation de l’énergie du 7 juillet 2011 portant communication sur les résultats de l’expérimentation d’Électricité Réseau Distribution France (ERDF) relative au dispositif de comptage évolué Linky. Retrieved from https://www.cre.fr/content/download/7554/66851 One of the arguments offered in support of the rollout was that it would promote French industry and the adoption of French standards on an international scale. In 2012, a further decree set out the specifications and the functionalities of the smart meters.12Arrêté du 4 janvier 2012 pris en application de l’article 4 du décret n°2010-1022 du 31 août 2010 relatif aux dispositifs de comptage sur les réseaux publics d’électricité. In 2015, the law on the energy transition for green growth made the installation of Linky mandatory.13 Loi n°2015-992 du 17 août 2015 relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte. Installation of Linky cannot be refused. Enedis, the distribution system operator which manages the French power grid, is responsible for the large-scale roll-out of the smart meters.
Despite its cute name, flashy colour, and the green growth rhetoric surrounding the project, the deployment of Enedis was met with fears and hostility. Activist groups called “Stop Linky” started to sprout everywhere in France. They organized protests, debates, and human chains, and drafted model petitions and letters to be sent by consumers to Enedis. They gave advice on how to resist the installation of Linky, like barricading dumb meters or sticking “Stop Linky” posters on meter boxes. Several non-profit organisations challenged in court the decision to impose Linky on households.14Conseil d’État, 20 March 2013, Robin des toits et al., n°354321. They did not succeed. Hundreds of municipalities and cities, however, took decisions either opposing the deployment of the meters on their territory, declaring moratoriums on the replacement of meters, or enshrining the right to refuse Linky. The reasons cited for justifying these measures are the right of privacy, data security, respect for the precautionary principle- the concern that Linky might be a fire hazard, preventing the exposure of citizens to a constant “bath of electromagnetic fields”15Tribunal administratif de Nantes, 12 avril 2017, Préfet de la Loire-Atlantique contre Commune de Villepôt, nº1603913 et 1606338. – and the wastefulness of the project, as it replaces perfectly functioning dumb meters with a technology that will soon be obsolete, an action, which is inconsistent with the green growth discourse supporting the project.
Representatives of the State at the local level have challenged these deliberations in administrative court. In all the decisions identified for this essay, administrative courts have sided with the representative of the State and have either cancelled or suspended the deliberations.1635 decisions were studied for this essay. These courts have consistently failed to take into account a right to question and maybe even reject technology. Individuals have also filed lawsuits putting forward their electromagnetic hypersensitivity. For the time being, only one plaintiff has won such a court case.17Tribunal d’instance de Grenoble, 17 November 2016, Mme X. c. OPAC, nº12-16-000575. The judge ordered her landlord to remove from her apartment a water smart meter and forbad the installation of Linky. Two class actions are currently ongoing. One of them comprises more than 5000 plaintiffs.18Lexprecia. (2018). Refus du Linky: les avocats s’unissent pour vous défendre. Retrieved from https://linky.mysmartcab.fr/ Even though opponents of the implementation of a smart grid raise crucial issues, mainstream media tends to depict them as Luddites suffering from technophobia.19Bérard, N. (2017). Sexy, Linky?: Pour voir le vrai visage du nouveau compteur électrique Linky sans se faire enfumer par ErDF, 93.
Resistance to the deployment of Linky was not expected by Enedis, as a result it did not try to gain approval from society, and overlooked important issues relating to privacy, to data protection, to public health, and electromagnetic pollution. These issues were not tackled during the conception of the project but raised only after approval of the program or, worse, during the deployment of the smart meters. To dispel public fears the French government used its agencies to conduct studies, issue opinions, reports and recommendations.20The government bodies involved in legitimizing Linky are numerous: ANFR, ANSES, CNIL, ANSSI, ADEME, CRE… On the issue of privacy, for instance, people were concerned that habits and behaviours, such as waking hours, or even illegal activities,21Article 29 Data Protection Working Party. Opinion 12/2011 on smart metering. 00671/11/EN, 21. could be inferred from data collected. Linky transmits data not only to consumers, but also to Enedis, energy suppliers, and third parties.
The French National data protection authority, Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), addressed these privacy matters by trying to establish a legal framework to regulate the collection and processing of data. To this end, it issued a deliberation,22 CNIL, Délibération n°2012-404 du 15 novembre 2012 portant recommandation relative aux traitements des données de consommation détaillées collectées par les compteurs communicants. and published a “conformity pack” for smart meters setting out rules and good practices.23CNIL. (May 2014). Pack de conformité: Les compteurs communicants. Retrieved from https://www.cnil.fr/sites/default/files/typo/document/Pack_de_Conformite_COMPTEURS_COMMUNICANTS.pdf The CNIL stressed that energy suppliers, network operators and service providers had to secure consent from consumers to process data recorded by Linky. Despite these documents, the CNIL in 2018, gave formal notice to an energy supplier, Direct Energy, that it was processing, without consent data collected every half-hour from Linky.24CNIL, Décision n°2018-007 du 5 mars 2018 mettant en demeure la société DIRECT ÉNERGIE. On the issue of electromagnetic pollution, the smart grid designed by Enedis carries data on power-lines by using a technology called “Power-Line Communication” (PLC). The first independent measurement of electromagnetic fields produced by Linky was performed in 2014, three years after the decision was made to roll-out smart meters in France25Bérard, 14.. In 2016, two governmental agencies published reports to appease the French population comparing electromagnetic fields emitted by Linky to a compact fluorescent lamp.26ANSES. (December 2016, revised in June 2017). Exposition de la population aux champs électromagnétiques émis par les «compteurs communicants». Retrieved from https://www.anses.fr/en/system/files/AP2015SA0210Ra.pdf and INERIS. (19 June 2016), Champs électromagnétiques produits par les compteurs de télé relève électrique Linky: Mesures exploratoires. Retrieved from https://www.ineris.fr/sites/ineris.fr/files/contribution/Documents/drc-16-148901-04977a-linky-mesures-exploratoires-vf2-signee-av-couv-1484651371.pdf But the measurement inside households was performed on meters using the first generation of PLC, Enedis is now deploying the third generation of PLC, and it did not take into account fields emitted by grapes of Linky, i.e. when all the smart meters of an apartment building are gathered together in one location, like a stairwell or a basement.
The massive scale and the top-down approach adopted for the Linky program have badly flawed its execution. In addition, pressure has been put on Enedis to finish the deployment of 35 million Linky by the end of 2021. If Enedis does not meet this deadline, financial penalties will apply calculated on the basis of the number of smart meters that were not installed, ranging up to 16,20 € per meter not installed.27Cour des comptes (2018). Rapport Annuel, 256. For the program to stay profitable Enedis subcontractors have to install a Linky meter in less than 30 minutes.28CGEDD, Flury-Herard Bernard, Dufay Jean-Pierre. (April 2017). Le déploiement du compteur Linky, 29. Retrieved from http://www.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/docfra/rapport_telechargement/var/storage/rapports-publics/174000344.pdf They hardly have the time to explain to the consumer why they are replacing a perfectly functioning dumb meter by Linky. Some subcontractors have even engaged in inappropriate conduct to meet targets, such as changing meters in the absence of the consumer.29Ségolène Royal. (21 April 2017). Suite à donner au rapport d’inspection sur le compteur Linky. Letter preceding the CGEDD report. A leaked internal document drafted by Enedis encouraged this behavior. The document gave, for example, instructions to disregard any stickers stating the refusal of a consumer, and even to cut padlocks when a consumer had barricaded their meter to prevent its replacement.30Gauvin A., de Caupenne, J., & Séga S. (Journalists). (14 juin 2018). Les révoltés du Linky [Television report]. Retrieved from https://www.francetvinfo.fr/sante/environnement-et-sante/video-les-revoltes-du-linky_2796555.html
Finally, the cost of the smartification of the French power grid is estimated to amount to 5.7 billion Euros. Although Enedis claims that installation of Linky is free, in reality, it has lent this cost with an interest rate of 4.6% to the French consumers, who will start to reimburse it in 2021. In a 2018 audit of the program, the French Court of Auditors concluded that the Linky program was more beneficial for Enedis than for consumers.31Cour des comptes, 268. Linky only has a small text-display that does not provide sufficient data to improve energy efficiency, which was the main reason supporting the construction of a French smart grid. As a consequence, the Linky program amounts to a useless and wasteful project designed to please an ideal of modernity and growth, which is more and more questioned by society.