By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 01/09/2011 01:26:13 AM PST
It's been a year since PG&E's SmartMeter Program was introduced in California. We got ours in early December. I went outside and talked with the young lady while she installed the controversial new technology for monitoring energy use. She was from Oregon and wasn't bothered by rain coming down while she did her job.
At the time, I was unaware of the controversy regarding the new SmartMeters. When I mentioned I got one recently, a friend told me to Google “SmartMeters.” He hinted darkly that there were big problems with them. He didn't even want to talk about it.
Curiosity properly piqued, I got on my computer and surfed through reams of stories about SmartMeters. I've concluded there are three main issues associated with them: The first is questions about their accuracy. The second concerns health hazards from their microwave radiation emissions and the third is privacy concerns. Apparently anyone can read your personal meter.
PG&E's SmartMeter program initially came under attack because of reports about accuracy that were largely refuted when an independent study found the technology to be fundamentally sound. Having said that, I know there are still problems with accuracy. The electric bill for my son's employer's house has been about $25 a month for the last two years. When he got his new SmartMeter, his first bill for the month skyrocketed to $700!
Yes, it was taken care of. I've read and heard about other cases of overcharging throughout the state during my research on this subject. The word from PG&E is they're still working some bugs out of the system. Doesn't seem to me like a smart business move to install a system that wasn't 100 percent ready to go.
There have been protests in 22 counties in California (including here in Humboldt County) about health concerns regarding the SmartMeters. There's probably a protest going on right now somewhere. Many PG&E customers have reported headaches, dizziness, nausea, tinnitus and heart palpitations that allegedly began when the new wireless meters were installed.
SmartMeters use 1-watt radios to transmit energy data over wireless networks. Those radios emit low levels of radio waves. Some studies have linked these radio waves, like those that transmit cell phone communications, with illnesses such as cancer. To be fair, other studies have not found a connection between low levels of radio waves and life-threatening illnesses.
The long-term health effects of radio waves from SmartMeters have not been studied. At least I couldn't find any studies. If there are some I'd like to hear about them.
Finally, there's the privacy issue. For the record, digital meters have been around for about 30 years. The only thing new is the ability to communicate with PG&E. It's that ability that has people worried.
I've read numerous reports about how easy it is to hack into wireless networks. The residents' usage data becomes available to anyone nearby with a laptop. That could become a security concern, because usage data gives information about when residents are home, asleep, or on vacation. This kind of information could be valuable to criminals.
Having looked at the three concerns I've mentioned here, it's important to realize how widespread this technology has become. Advanced Metering Infrastructure, also known as SmartMetering, is currently used in Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Malta, Ireland, UK, Italy, and France. It's also being installed throughout Australia.
New technology often spawns concerns. Real and imagined. From all accounts, PG&E did a lousy job of educating the public when the installations began. They've been playing catch-up since. Whether or not these concerns prove to be true remains to be seen. This is not a comforting thought because I now have one outside of my house.
I can't help wondering what's going to happen to all those meter readers who will no longer be necessary because of this new system. Will PG&E give them some other job to do? My guess is they'll become casualties like so many other workers who lost their jobs to new technologies.
The traditional electrical meters only measured total consumption. They didn't provide information as to when the energy was consumed. Experts say the SmartMeters measure this information, allowing price setting agencies to introduce different prices for consumption based on the time of day and the season.
As It Stands, in a perfect world this would mean everybody saved money and energy usage was more efficient.
UPDATE – web site that’s carrying this column today
Googlyfish – an Australian Blog
Google News – search engine