Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Smart Meters may not be so Smart

Last week my local electric company, Contact, came and installed a smart meter to replace the old traditional electricity meter that hung on the outside of my house. At a glance, it doesn’t look all that different, just an electronic digital readout instead of the old turning wheel and mechanical digital numbers.

About that same time, I started to experience the same fizzy, fuzzy discomfort and stuffy-ear feeling that I experienced when I [briefly!] installed a wireless modem. (For that story, see here—my wireless-internet-at-home experience didn’t last but a day because I couldn’t stand it!) At first I wondered if there was something playing up with my wired internet connection. And then this morning I realised that my discomfort began about the same time we got the smart meter. And I wondered what was going on. So I hit the net.

A smart meter allows your electric company to monitor your electric usage without visiting your house, which saves them money and ensures your readings are always accurate. To do this, a wifi message is broadcast to the company about your electricity usage from your meter at regular intervals during the day. The way I understand it, your smart meter is basically acting like a wifi transmitter that is on all the time.

While industry may be excited about this new technology and trying hard to put a positive spin on it for consumers, home owners should be worried. Yes, we live in an increasingly wireless world. No, you are not holding your smart meter to your ear like you do your cell phone, and you’re probably not sitting next to it either, but it is yet another device in our homes that is broadcasting electromagnetic energy into our bodies.

A Swedish study mentioned in the following you tube lecture by engineer Bob States found that some 3% of the population is severely affected by electromagnetic radiation (electro-hyper-sensitive) and another estimated 30% shows some sensitivity. In this video, States gives a presentation to the Tesla Foundation in San Francisco, and although the video makes for fairly “dry” viewing, even if you don’t watch it all, States’ explanation and discussion of the slide that he puts up at 13:35 (minutes) and continuing on into the next slide in the video is sobering and worth watching.

The roll out of smart meters seems to be a fait accompli in many parts of the world, including here in Lower Hutt. Supporting the industry in New Zealand, Canterbury University have declared smart meters “safe”, with spokesperson Bill Heffernan saying “It is much more likely that we would spend an hour a day talking on the mobile phone or working within one meter of our wireless router,”[i] suggesting, I guess, either that those are also “safe” but controversial activities, or that doing more of the same won’t have a cumulative effect.  On the other hand, California radiation expert Daniel Hirsch informs us that “one smart meter can provide up to the full body radiation exposure of 160 cell phones”. Read his report here and check out his chart of comparative devices below.

The impact on those of us who are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation is distressing. I can choose to not have a wifi modem in my house, and I can choose to only use my mobile phone occasionally and briefly (the old-fashioned phone on my desk has a cord and attaches to the wall), but I suspect I cannot choose to not have a smart meter, even if it bothers me. I have just emailed Contact and will report their response in the comments box when it comes.

As Joseph Heller once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Food for thought.


  1. I received a nice reply from Andrew at Contact, and replied back that I'd see if I'm still feeling distressed after the weekend, and if so will be back in contact with him/them. Andrew wrote:

    Thanks for your email.

    I’m sorry to hear that you are experiencing discomfort. I’ve passed your query on to our Smart Meter team to see if they are able to comment on the issue.

    As far as making a change to the meter is concerned, Contact is only installing smart meters now, so we would not remove the meter itself; however, it is possible to remove the communications module which means your meter would work like a standard meter, and be read by a meter reader. There may be a fee to have the module removed.

    Please feel free to contact us if you need any further help.


  2. The January/February issue of Organic NZ has an article on smart meters. Also mentioned there, the website www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz which offers suggestions to avoid having one installed at your house, but is fairly spartan otherwise. I also accidentally clicked into www.stopsmartmeters.org (without the NZ tag)and found a US site with lots of articles and links.


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