So, what is all the fuss about Smart Meters? What is wrong with your utility company checking your meter via a radio controlled meter rather than sending round a man to read it, or asking you to read it yourself and tell them what you have used? Sounds rather efficient…
Well that is what the energy companies are telling us anyhow, adding that it will help them and us to be ‘greener’ in our use of energy. ‘By understanding how we use our energy, this will help us all to find ways of reducing our consumption and also help make our individual contribution to the overall carbon reduction targets….’
But….. And there are lots of buts. For much more detail on smart meters, their possible effects and who is doing what elsewhere in the world, see articles and research on the FoodsMatter site. However, for a very brief introduction – the ‘buts’, fall in to three main sections.
Energy companies claim that smart meters will enable them to save costs as they will not need to employ meter readers (can this really be regarded as a virtue in these times of high unemployment?) and that the readings will be more accurate and will allow them to plan and monitor usage so as to make more efficient use of energy. In fact, the experience of several states in the US where smart meters have already been installed and where bills have suddenly soared into thousands of dollars, have suggested that this may be far from the case.
There are huge concerns about the data that will be collected: how it will be stored and how it could be used. The meters will be operational 24/7 and will collect data an ongoing basis or at very frequent intervals. So that if you choose to get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, make a cup of tea, watch TV, or work in your workshop because you can’t sleep, that information will be logged via your smart meter.
In a comment on a Which? blog on smart meters, the NPower Press Office says:
‘Customer privacy and data security is key to the work being done in the industry and we are working with Ofgem to ensure that the appropriate customer protections are in place when the mass rollout starts next year. There are already customer protection mechanisms in place, such as the Data Protection Act, European Convention and Human Rights and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, that will ensure data is used in an appropriate way and that marketing information is only sent to those customers who have agreed to receive such messages.’
Ouch – that does not sound reassuring. Who decides what is appropriate? And do we really want them to have the information anyhow? Seems to me that Big Brother has finally found the ideal tool for monitoring our every move and I, for one, do not have faith that those ‘customer protection mechanisms’ are sufficiently robust to prevent me being harassed by sellers of everything from roof insulation to garden mowers.
But even if one believes in the integrity of the utility companies, what is to stop a hacker with more malign motives accessing the information – information such as when you are normally out so it would be a good time to burgle you could be deduced from your power usage. Or, on a much larger scale, a hacker could successfully bring the whole country to a standstill by breaking into the system and just turning it off! The energy companies maintain that their systems are ‘secure’ but history suggests that no system is truly secure against a determined and skillful hacker. (For more on this see this article in the Denver Post.)
Health risks – more electrosmog
For anyone who is already electrosensitive – and potentially for all of us – smart meters pose a greater hazard than having Big Brother breathing down your neck; they will effectively ‘irradiate’ your house or flat 24 hours a day and you will have no way of turning them off. Although in some countries (such as Italy) the information is sent down a cable network, the proposal for the UK (along with much of North America) is to use a wifi or wireless network. This effectively means that every dwelling in the UK that uses energy and has a meter will be connected through a wifi network to a hub in the street which will then pass the information on to a central data processing centre. It is even possible that some meters may act as relays to boost the system, in which case they will be using an even stronger signal.
A wifi smart meter system is already up and running in Canada and its emissions are currently significantly higher than the international Bioinitiative safety limit for mobile phones. Indeed one calculation suggests that, working at two thirds of its maximum capacity, one meter would give off the same amount of radiation per day as the recent Interphone study suggested would be enough to increase cancer risk over a period of 10 years.
In some countries (such as the Netherlands) you can opt out – although opting out yourself will not protect from the emission from your neighbours which, if you live in a flat, could be very high. However, as it stands, in the UK there will be no opt out on health or any other grounds, so we will all have the ambient electrosmog in which we are forced live to dramatically increased, with whatever health consequences that may have.
As far as those who are already electrosensitive are concerned, they know only too well what the consequences will be: considerable extra expenditure to try and shield themselves from the emissions and an almost inevitable decline in their health as it will not be possible to entirely exclude the meter emissions from their homes. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the effect will largely depend on whether theories like Andrew Goldsworthy’s (outlined in my previous post) that conditions such as autism are directly related to the increase in man-made electromagnetic radiation, prove to be true – in which case it could be catastrophic. Certainly, the low level reactions (headache, fatigue, ear tingling, general malaise etc etc) that many people who are not overtly electrosensitive already experience to excess mobile phone or computer use, compact fluorescent bulbs, dirty electricity, power lines etc are likely to get worse with the resultant loss of population-wide productivity and general well being.
So, what to do?
Well, in the US, where the grid is far more advanced than ours in the UK, there are a number of groups, such as Stop Smart Meters and the Center for Electrosmog Prevention campaigning vociferously, and in some cases successfully, to stop the roll out or even to have smart meters removed. In the UK MCS-Aware, ES-UK, The Radiation Trust and Wired Child have joined together to petition the government to install a fibre-optic wired network instead of a wifi one and to allow an opt out on health grounds for those who are electrosensitive. This obviously does not address the larger concerns of the invasion of privacy, security and efficiency raised by the universal installation of smart meters, but it certainly does address the main health concerns.
If you feel you should get involved – and you should – they have set up a website, www.SmartMeterPetition.org from which you can sign the petition. They also give you templates for letters and emails to be sent to your MP, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and anyone else who could be relevant, lots addresses plus suggestions as to how you can protect your own home against smart meters.
For other ideas as to why the government should think again about their Smart Meter roll out, check through some of the other articles on the Foods Matter site. Even though it is unlikely that they will actually take it on board, you might also want to quote Dr Goldsworthy’s appeal to the Nuremberg Code; it might at least make them think!
‘One thing that I did not mention in my original communication, but is very relevant, is that the enforced introduction of wireless smart meters is a clear contravention of the Nuremberg Code which forbids the performance of experiments on human beings without their consent. Insofar as the long-term safety of continual irradiation from these devices has never been tested and many people (including many eminent scientists) believe that it is potentially harmful, the whole nation is being made a part of an uncontrolled experiment on their electromagnetic safety.
In fact, it doesn’t matter whether they turn out to be harmful or not; the fact that the experiment is being performed at all without the expressed permission of the consumer is a contravention of the Nuremberg Code. If we are to adhere to the Code, no consumer should have a wireless smart meter fitted without their voluntary consent after being warned that some scientists believe them to be a health hazard. Furthermore, should the property change hands, any new consumer should have the right to ask for the meter to be removed and replaced by a conventional one.’