Smart Meter Issues

A smart meter is a digital metering device used to measure public utility electric power consumption. They typically report their information via a wireless link every fifteen minutes or so. This allows the utility company to collect metering information without using human meter readers to manually observe the meter and to gain a more accurate understanding of power consumption. It also allows the consumer to gain the same improved understanding and to connect a home network to the smart meter for advanced uses.

A smart meter serves basically the same function as our older electric power meters with the spinning wheel and number dials, but does it electronically and reports the data wirelessly. As electric power utility companies have begun replacing older meters with the new smart meters, controversy has sprung up about them.

DESCRIPTION OF SMART METER CONFIGURATIONS

A typical smart meter installation involves several components:

  • HAN – there may or may not be a Home Area Network (HAN) inside the house. This is a consumer purchased and installed option that allows you to use the data from your meter and also connect to other appliances if you wish. Most homes don’t yet have HANs installed.
  • RF Mesh Network – this wireless network connects the smart meter to either other smart meters or to a collection station located somewhere nearby, often on a utility pole.
  • Data Relay Network – this network relays the data from the meters to the utility company and may use some form of wireless, or cellular phone or even a wired network.

Smart meters can use a variety of wireless techniques including:

  • Zigbee – 802.15.4 is a low power mesh protocol that can operate at either 2.4 Ghz or the 900 Mhz band. This is often used to provide a link from the smartmeter to the HAN inside the house.
  • Infrared – IR port on some meters is used for administrative purposes such as programming or updating firmware
  • Cell phone
  • WiFi or WiMAX
  • non-wireless techniques include conventional network cables or signal over power lines.

There are two main areas of recent controversy about smart meters:

HEALTH IMPACT

There are those who worry about the health impact and maintain that the Radio Frequency (RF) energy emitted by the wireless component may have negative health implications. There may or may not be some basis for concern about RF emissions in general, but the power of the wireless transmitter in smart meters is extremely low compared to other RF sources that we are exposed to every day and they transmit more infrequently than other forms of wireless because of the relatively low data volume.

SECURITY AND PRIVACY

There are many unsubstantiated security and privacy concerns about smart meters. They mostly involve theories that the utility company or government will be able to either monitor which device inside the house is using power or even control devices inside the house via the smart meter. While it’s true that measuring in fifteen minute increments may allow utility companies to make some intelligent inferences about how power is being used at different times of the day, there is no new significance to the data being transmitted that was not present before the meter type was changed. There is no ability whatsoever inherent in a smart meter to control devices inside the home. Once HANs become commonplace, some of these worries may become more substantial but at the present time HANs are not even available to most consumers.

A more substantial worry is whether or not the addition of wireless networks to public power companies will weaken their defenses against attackers who wish to bring down the power grid. This is no different than adding wireless networking to any information system and should be handled by standard security conventions and controls. Physical access to meters located outside in public is not easy to control and will need special attention.

NOTE – similar advanced metering devices for utilities other than electric power should be available soon: water, gas. And the embedding of wireless sensors will continue across our environment, including inside the home. Smart appliances of all types as well as smart carpet, smart furniture, smart walls etc.

Cell Phones, Cancers and Brain Tumors. – [ehso.com]

Introduction

Cell phones and cancer are in the news all the time now it seems. But almost everyone uses cell phones. All over the world, tens of millions of people are pressing them against their heads for hours every day. Worldwide, the number of cell phone users is estimated to be approximately 5 billion in 2011 and that number has continued to climb.

So what’s the fuss? Is cancer caused by cell phones a serious concern, or the media’s panic-du-jour?

A cell phone, and a household cordless phone, use a low level form of microwave radiation to send and receive their signals. (see “How do cell phones work” here.) Microwaves, as you know, are used to cook food. As the radiation penetrates tissue it causes it to heat.

Is this a problem for us with cell phones? That is the current debate. Let’s examine the positions and the known evidence, without hype or prejudice. As always, EHSO will provide citations and links to the sources of any evidence provided, so you can verify it for yourself.

Smart Meters Fact Sheet – Vermont Department of Health – [healthvermont.gov]

VERMONT Department of Health
February 10, 2012
Radio Frequency Radiation and Health: Smart Meters
Electric utilities are working to install advanced metering technology known as “smart meters” that use radio signals to communicate electricity demand through mobile telecommunications. The signals that are used – radio frequency radiation or RFR – are the same type as those used for radio and TV broadcasting for many years. Microwave ovens, radar and wi-fi devices also emit RFR, but today mobile telephones are the most common source of exposure to RFR.
There is little scientific data specific to smart meters. However, the RFR from smart meters and mobile telephones are nearly identical, so investigations on potential health effects from mobile telephones can be used to estimate potential health effects from smart meters. Smart meters, according to both mathematical modeling and field tests, emit RFR at very low levels, lower than mobile telephones. The current health protection standards established for mobile telephones in the U.S. and in most other countries around the world are generally accepted as sufficient to prevent health effects from smart meters.
In January 2012, the Vermont Department of Health made actual measurements at active smart meters installed by Green Mountain Power in Colchester. The readings from these devices verify that they emit no more than a small fraction of the RFR emitted from a wireless phone, even at very close proximity to the meter, and are well below regulatory limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
For example, measurements taken directly in contact with a smart meter on the exterior wall of a residence ranged from 50 to 140 μW/cm2 compared to the FCC’s maximum permissible exposure limit of 610 μW/cm2 for a member of the public. Measurements at distances of three feet or more away from the smart meter were at or near background.
(See Smart Meter Measurements in Vermont, p. 4 for full discussion.)
After extensive review of the scientific literature available to date and current FCC regulatory health protection standards, we agree with the opinion of experts:
• The thermal health effects of RFR are well understood, and are the current basis for regulatory exposure limits. These limits are sufficient to prevent thermal health effects.
• Non-thermal health effects have been widely studied, but are still theoretical and have not been recognized by experts as a basis for changing regulatory exposure limits.
The Vermont Department of Health has concluded that the current regulatory standards for RFR from smart meters are sufficient to protect public health.

Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters [ccst.us]

California Council on Science and Technology
Release date (final version): March 31, 2011

At the request of Assembly Member Jared Huffman (Marin) and Assembly Member Bill Monning (Santa Cruz), CCST agreed to compile and assess the evidence available to address the following two issues:

Whether FCC standards for SmartMeters are sufficiently protective of public health taking into account current exposure levels to radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields.
Whether additional technology specific standards are needed for SmartMeters and other devices that are commonly found in and around homes, to ensure adequate protection from adverse health effects.
SmartMeters are electronic monitoring devices that continuously measure the electricity output from each household and business. They communicate on a regular basis back to the utility. The goal is to enable power companies to better understand patterns of power consumption throughout the day and adjust power generation accordingly.

The final version of “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters” takes taking into account input and reviews received during the public comment period in January. Comments received as part of this process have also been released.

Smart Meters – [maine.gov]

On October 25th, 2010 a complaint was filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) focusing on concerns related to health, safety (malfunctioning, shorting out, and igniting), and security (vulnerability to hacking) of smart meters, also known as advanced metering infrastructure.

Maine CDCs review did not indicate any consistent or convincing evidence to support a concern for health effects related to the use of radiofrequency in the range of frequencies and power used by smart meters. They also do not indicate an association of EMF exposure and symptoms that have been described as electromagnetic sensitivity.

November 8, 2010 Report to the Office of the Public Advocate and the Maine Public Utilities Commission:

FCC Letter – August 2010 PDF*
Government or Government-Affiliated Resources Reviewed on the Health Effects of Non-Ionizing Radiation (November 2010) (Word* | PDF*)
FAQ on Maine CDC’s Nov. 8 Report (Word* | PDF*)

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