Wednesday, 15 February 2017

No, smart meters will not make you ill

I was recently invited to sign a 38 degrees petition against smart meters primarily on health and safety grounds. This made all sorts of spurious claims about the health impacts of radio waves used to propagate smart meter data. A friend who also got the same invite wasn't sure what to believe and another acquaintance seems to be convinced that the government and utility companies are conspiring to make us all ill with smart meters. This is ridiculous.


For a simple answer see the advice from Public Health England. "Smart meters use radio waves to allow remote readings to be taken from gas and electricity meters. They are expected to replace the existing meters in people’s homes over the next few years ... The evidence to date suggests exposures to the radio waves produced by smart meters do not pose a risk to health ... PHE considers exposure to radio waves does not provide a basis to decline having a smart meter. "

If you are happy that WiFi and mobile phones are safe there is no need to worry about smart meters
Still not convinced? Do you use a mobile phone? Do you have WiFi at home or at work? Do you think these are safe to use? If your answer is yes then there is no reason to be concerned about radio waves from smart meters either.

Smart meters use data communications in two ways:

  • The home area network (HAN) is used within the building, for communicating with other devices such as your in house display, smart washing machine etc. This uses ZigBee which is similar to WiFi but optimised for very low power. It was originally designed for battery powered 'Internet of Things' devices. The smart meter updates your in-house display every 10 seconds so this is on perhaps 1% of the time.
  • The wide area network (WAN) is used for communications outside the home: receiving tariff details and sending back usage details (in half hour intervals). For most people this will use the normal mobile networks. The meter can tolerate at least 8 days network interruption and only needs to talk to base occasionally.

By the way all communications are encrypted and the scheme used is very secure - it was even vetted by GCHQ. This means your neighbour can't spy on you and find out about your energy consumption. Nor can their smart devices interfere with yours.

The second generation smart meters transmit data to the Digital Communications Company rather than your utility company and the DCC has outsourced the telecommunications bit to two companies: Arqiva in the north and Telefonica in south and central zones [1]. Arqiva will use long range radio. Telefonica will use existing mobile networks. They reckon they can reach 92.75% of customers directly and another 6.5% using either an aerial for extra sensitivity or by meshing together neighbouring houses[2]. (This does not add up to 100%. Some households in very rural areas will not be able to use a smart meter.)


Other benefits: extra monitoring facilitates integration of local generation such as PV panels.
As well as keeping track of your energy use the meters also detect over and under voltage events and report them to base. Over-voltage is much more likely to happen when lots of buildings are generating power through renewables like PV panels. Monitoring this in more detail helps integrate more renewables and can improve power quality generally.

No need for separate pre-payment meters, easy to switch tariffs
Smart meters can be used as prepayment meters too. That means you will never be charged for a meter change to go on or off a prepayment tariff. Also, if you want to switch to Economy 7 or another type of tariff, this does not require a special meter or a visit from an engineer [2].

Accurate real time information helps you save
Smart meters give you accurate real time information on your energy consumption. They are much better than 'clamp on' electricity monitors though pulse counter style electricity monitors should also be accurate [3]. If you are trying to reduce your electricity consumption, then having this sort of information is extremely useful.

Enables time of use tariffs reducing peak demand and hence lower bills for everyone
However all these benefits are minor. The most important reason why we need smart meters is not to do with saving money individually, it is for everyone to save money. With smart meters it is possible for the utility companies to offer tariffs that encourage us to shift our consumption away from peak times. That means national grid and the supply companies need to spend less on infrastructure for generation capacity, transmission and distribution networks - all of which depend on peak demand. Lower peak demand means lower bills for everyone.


[1] Service Providers (www.smartdcc.co.uk)
[2] Telefonica SM WAN Assurance Mesh Introduction & Desktop Demo (www.smartdcc.co.uk)
[3] What are smart meters (www.smartenergygb.org)
[4] Clip-on (current clamp) electricity monitors are not accurate (nicola.qeng-ho.org)
[5] Smart Metering Implementation Programme, Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications Version 1.58 (DECC)

3 comments:

  1. It is a sad reflection on the times when a development that has the potential to at least partly solve our energy problems is subject to unfounded scares and misinformation. Some of us feel much the same way about nuclear power.

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  2. It is sad to see 38-degrees being taken in by this bollocks. I note that they didn't send that one to me. As Mark says - we get the same type of idiocy about nuclear too, which has similar major ramifications for decarbonisation, or the lack of it.

    Smart meters are so secure that you don't get access to your own data. This annoys me intensely. You will get some data back via your utility/the datacentre, but so far as I know there is no requirement for them to provide the actual data, just some kind of summary, and they'll probably want to charge you (again) for it.

    I do think that I should have access to monitoring going on in my own building. (And a local LCD display does not constitute useful access, although it could possibly be hacked to get some). I must admit that I've not been keeping up, and maybe there is a way to provide local access, presumably using the same mechanism as the local display, but in a useful open format. Any nerds here know?

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    Replies
    1. In the SMETS2 specification the protocols by which smart meters communicate with the in house display are defined. It should be possible to install a 3rd party data logger or write your own. However, it looks as though you have to get the DCC to assist with pairing your device with your meter. See https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/591313/20161231_LCP_Response_v1.7.pdf

      If you are happy to use 30 minute data rather then 10 seconds, then I am sure there will be other options available via the DCC or your energy supplier. This page (http://www.smartme.co.uk/commands.html) says Energy suppliers are all working on giving their customers internet access.

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