Smart Meters Are Key To A Smart Grid

Cassandra Brunette is a research associate in EDF's Office of Chief Scientist.

Source: PG&E

A well-designed smart grid is critical to the clean energy revolution we need – enabling significantly greater use of clean, renewable, domestic energy resources and improved air quality to protect the health of millions of Americans now harmed by dangerous air pollution.

Smart meters are a key component of the smart grid.  They unlock air quality, climate pollution and public health benefits by enabling two-way, real-time communication that gives households, small businesses, manufacturers and farmers (and the utilities that serve them) the information they need to cut energy use and electricity costs.  These devices help ensure that every day energy users reap the many benefits of the smart grid.

However, as a recent PBS NewsHour report explained, some activist groups and individuals in areas where smart meters have been deployed have expressed concerns over exposure to radio frequencies (RFs) resulting from the use  of this technology.  EDF supports further research and opt-out programs for those concerned.  But what is missing from the PBS report is a clear account of the current, available scientific evidence on smart meters and health.  EDF uses the best available science in all of its programs, and our smart grid initiative is no exception.

I am a member of EDF’s science team out of the San Francisco Bay Area and have dug deep into the peer-reviewed literature on health effects of smart meters, as well as independent assessments by agencies and industry groups and reports from government agencies.  Here is what we know:

Research shows that every day humans come into contact with RFs from a wide variety of sources, including – but not limited to – wireless or cellular phones, microwaves, wireless internet routers, hair dryers, baby monitors and wireless laptops.  Each has varying levels of exposure that depend on the technology and – importantly – on distance from the source.

One example in our daily lives is the use of a cell phone.  A study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) found that during a call, cell phones held at the ear generate exposure levels between 1000-5000 microwatts per square centimeter (µW/cm2).  In comparison, when transmitting, smart meters create exposure levels of approximately 8.8 µW/cm2.  And that’s if a person is standing right in front of the meter.  In homes and businesses, people are much farther away from their electric meter, so exposure levels are far lower.  This means that a cell phone call exposes a person to hundreds of times more RFs than a transmitting smart meter.  Moreover, smart meters only transmit signals roughly 2-5% of the day (approximately 30-70 minutes).

Source: CCST

The chart to the right (units in µW/cm2), from a report by the California Council on Science and Technology, puts smart meters in context with other RF emitting technologies.  Keep in mind that this chart compares smart meters at a hypothetical maximum exposure level with transmission occurring during 100% of the day.  Even at these hypothetical maximums, exposure from smart meters is significantly lower than other technologies already in use.

Assessments also show that impacts from RFs come in two forms, thermal (heat-related) and non-thermal.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets safety standards for thermal impacts.  Smart meter exposure levels fall well below the FCC’s limits for safety for thermal impacts.  As for non-thermal impacts, the cumulative impacts of low-dose, long-term exposure are uncertain.  To date, there is no scientific evidence of non-thermal impacts from smart meter RF emissions.  EDF supports continued research on any possible health impacts of all RF emitters, but given the current standard for thermal impacts and uncertainties of non-thermal impacts, there is no evidence that the public would benefit from additional standards.

EDF’s number one priority is environmental and public health safety.  We advocate for a “smart grid done right” to quote a message by EDF’s President Fred Krupp, and we are not alone in this effort.  Though the PBS NewsHour story references “environmentalists” broadly opposed to a smarter grid, EDF is one of many environmental organizations strongly advocating for grid modernization as the clear path to lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and moving us toward a clean, healthy, low-carbon energy system.  Our science team will continue thorough assessments of the best available science on this topic and our work with utilities, regulators and the smart grid industry to protect the environment and the health of customers.

For more information on the many benefits of the smart grid, please view EDF’s fact sheet here.

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  1. MS
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    You can spew scientific information all you want. What do you say to the thousands of people who are literally abandoning their homes as they got ill? In every state smart meters have been deployed, people have gotten sick. Many of the meters are less than 5 feet from where people spend a LOT of time in their home and as the information PG&E provided, by judge order showed, the meters emit up to 190,000 times per day. At random times, these meters spike at high levels. We have personally measured the meter on our house in CA many times and it has been over 1 milliwatt/cm2. As well the mesh network which allows the meters to pass information through each other is a web of ongoing radiation.

    Whether you like/accept this or not, these are the facts.

    • Heather Black
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      MS, haven't you read that this is a psychosomatic illness? This is why EHS is not considered a medical condition recognized in any country. It is fear of smart meters that is causing people to be ill. No one who claims to be sensitive has been able to detect when they are being exposed under controlled conditions. THOSE are the facts.

      • FxGreek
        Posted July 27, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

        Yes and this video testimony is another psychosomatic illness?

      • Christel
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Sweden recognizes EHS as a functional impairment; Canada Pension Plan recognizes EHS as a disability; Europe, China and Russia all have much tighter microwave emission standards than North America. So tell me again: why is EDF called the Environmental DEFENSE Fund when you clearly haven't checked the unbiased science and are, hopefully unwittingly, promoting Environmental DEATH instead? Have you read about the impact of microwave radiation on migratory animals, such as birds, bees, bats–our pollinators? Look up "magnetite" and how manmade EMR interferes with their homing ability. We depend on these tiny creatures to pollinate our crops; we'll eventually starve without them. EDF, do your research, dig deeper into unbiased science.

  2. Kathy
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    What happened to me is the perfect example of why this is NOT a psychosomatic illness. Last Fall, I had headaches and ringing in my right ear. I attributed it to stress related to our home renovation. But after I returned from a vacation, I realized that the ringing had resumed, where it was absent while I was away. I googled "headaches and ringing in the ears," and up came smart meters – something that I assure you was not even the slightest bit on my mind. I barely knew what a smart meter was. So no, this is NOT a psychosomatic illness.

  3. Posted July 27, 2012 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    If EDF's priority is public health then it should look at independent (aka not industry affiliated or funded research). There are thousands which indicate the severe and varied health effects which, for many, are debilitating and life-changing. Also, look at Dr. Daniel HIrsch's critique of the Calif. Council of Science & Technology. In fact the level of radiation from smart meters is 50-450 times that from a cell phone. The effects of radiation are cumulative and the wireless meters add one more layer — a constant, never ending one. Many people are feeling the effects and they are real. Did you not know that the Americans with Disability Act recognizes electro-sensitivity? Really, you should check out your facts because so many are wrong.

    • Posted July 28, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Sharon, for setting the record straight.

      Because I am unable to add a comment of my own on EDF's website, I'll just add to yours.

      Ms. Brunette, you say you have "dug deep" into the literature. So have the medical professionals at the California Department of Public Health who call into question the findings of the industry-funded CCST study, upon which the utilities and others with vested interests in the "smart" grid rely.

      Read some REAL facts here:

      Shame on you, EDF. Shame on you, Ms. Brunette. We were blind to the true nature of EDF, but now we know the truth and will be canceling all support we have been giving to your organization.

  4. Kathy
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Heather Black, please see this article from the International Journal of Neuroscience, proving that one CAN feel RF radiation.

  5. D. M. Donovan
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Your article claims that "a study by EPRI found that during a call, cell phones held at the ear generate exposure levels between 1000-5000 microwatts per square centimeter (µW/cm2)." If you read that EPRI study, it "found" no such thing. It merely stated that number. The footnote reads, "Based on a 3-inch, 250 mW antenna emitting in a cylindrical wavefront." No mention of what brand, model, wireless network, or production year of this fictitious cell phone to allow for verification. Further, I checked with an EE with 28 years experience currently working for a wireless network provider, and he said that number should be about 250 to 350 uW/cm2 NOT 1000-5000. So right there your data is exaggerated 20-fold.

    A popular smart meter, Itron, lists in its FCC submission that at 20 cm (ie, "right in front of the meter") the maximum power density is 232 uW/cm2, not 8.8 as your article indicates. Basically, smart phones and smart meters emit comparable levels of (averaged) radiation, the difference is in the pattern of exposure. How many hours per day or week does one talk on a cell phone? For sure, no one is talking on a cell phone while sleeping. Yet a smart meter is emitting every few seconds, albeit briefly, 24/7 with no letup, often with someone's bed just the other side of the wall the meter is on. The cumulative exposure to either form of RF (cell phone or smart meter) is a possible carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization. And the momentary (unaveraged) spikes of smart meter RFR are orders of magnitude higher than cell phones. One Edison meter is said to be 229,000 uW/cm2 at 20 cm.

    The CCST report from which you obtained the comparative chart, was roundly criticized by experts around the world ( The data in the CCST chart was pulled from the Dec 2010 EPRI report, produced by Richard Tell, which measured banks of 10 meters in a grassy field. The grassy field minimized reflections (found in an urban setting from roads, building walls, plate glass windows, trucks, etc), which Cindy Sage found could increase exposures by as much as 2000%. Plus there was no explanation provided of how the measurements from banks of meters was adjusted down to represent a single meter.

    Finally, your statement, "To date, there is no scientific evidence of non-thermal impacts from smart meter RF emissions" is absolutely false. While smart meters have not been studied much (they are too new) the frequencies and exposures of these devices have been studied thousands of times and found many adverse health effects. Just read the BioInitiative Report.

    If you really want to "protect the environment and the health of customers", you will tell the truth instead of the industry's propoganda.

  6. Posted July 28, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

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  7. Josh
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I think that perhaps when EDF says:

    "EDF uses the best available science in all of its programs, and our smart grid initiative is no exception."

    What it really means is:

    "EDF’s board includes Ann Doerr, the wife of John Doerr, whose VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is heavily invested in Silver Spring."

    Quote from

  8. Posted August 3, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually think this website needs much more consideration. I’ll probably be once more to read way more, thanks for that info.

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