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Smart Meters: Addressing Your Concerns

by on March 11, 2013

Smart MeterKey Points

  • Studies have failed to link adverse health effects to the radio frequency emissions of smart meters.
  • Government and industry standards have been developed to ensure smart meter security.
  • Smart meter suppliers are asked to comply with requirements regarding remote access, authentication, encryption and privacy of metered data and customer information.

Smart meters provide interactive communication between utilities and their customers, allowing for more accurate billing, improved management of energy demand and faster outage detection. When connected to smart appliances and energy-management systems, they allow homeowners and facilities to better monitor and manage their energy use and save on utility costs. There are an estimated 36 million smart meters currently installed, according to the Institute for Electric Efficiency, and this number is expected to grow to 65 million by 2015. (IEE 2012) Despite their many benefits, efforts to install smart meters have raised concerns about potential adverse health effects and privacy issues surrounding this new technology.

Can smart meters negatively impact health?

Smart meters use a wireless radio frequency (RF) interface, as well as power line communication (PLC) technology—although not all RF meters have smart capabilities. Exposure to large amounts of RF fields can raise body temperature and cause tissue damage. However, the level of RF fields emitted by wireless smart meters is well below the amount that can cause heat-induced health effects. In fact, studies have shown that smart meter RF levels are far less than those of other everyday household devices.

A report by the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that “wireless smart meters, when installed and properly maintained, result in much smaller levels of radio frequency (RF) exposure than many existing common household electronic devices, such as cell phones and microwave ovens.” The report went on to state that the level of radio frequency emissions from smart meters cause no heat-induced health effects and that they are only a small fraction of the exposure levels established as safe by the Federal Communications Commission. (CCST 2011)

Other claims have been made for non-thermal health effects from low-level RF exposure; including headaches, fatigue and anxiety. However, to date, scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to RF fields, according to the World Health Organization. (WHO 2012) A scientific review by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention indicated a “broad consensus that studies to date give no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal relation between RF exposure in the range of frequencies and power used by smart meters and adverse health effects.” (Maine CDC 2010)

Security and privacy

Concerns have arisen about the detailed data that can be gathered from smart meters and the security of that data. Smart meter opponents claim that these sophisticated devices can be used to reveal information about consumers’ lifestyles and threaten their privacy.

A number of efforts by government and the utility industry are addressing these concerns. For example, in 2010 the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued voluntary security standards for smart meters and other smart grid-related devices. Smart meter suppliers are asked to comply with requirements regarding remote access, authentication, encryption and privacy of metered data and customer information. Third-party certification of smart meters is fast becoming the norm across the country.

As of August 2011, the California Public Utility Commission requires utilities to regularly conduct independent security audits of their millions of wireless meters and restrict access to customers’ personal data by third parties, such as energy-efficiency consultants. These were the first such rules adopted in the United States and could serve as a role model for other states.

With the potential of smart meters to reduce energy use and help modernize the grid, the utility industry will continue to work with the government and technology providers to ensure security and privacy, and provide accurate information regarding health issues.

California Council on Science and Technology (CCST). Health Impacts of Radio Frequency Exposure from Smart Meters. April 2011.
Edison Electric Institute (EEI). Smart Meters and Smart Meter Systems. May 2011.
Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE). Utility-Scale Smart Meter Deployments, Plans and Proposals. May 2012.
Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention (Main CDC) Government or Government-Affiliated Resources Reviewed on the Health Effects of Non-Ionizing Radiation. November 2010.
World Health Organization (WHO). What Are Electromagnetic Fields?  (Accessed November 14, 2012).

From → Reliability

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