A new documentary about smart meters opens on September 5th called Take Back Your Power. The film suggests that smart meters cause illness. According to an August 12 USA Today story, the film’s director was inspired by a friend who became seriously ill after a smart meter was installed at his home. Naturally, this type of personal experience might shape one’s view on smart meters, but correlation is not causation.
Electric utilities have installed over 38 million smart meters across the country and there “has never been a documented injury or health problem associated with such meters.” According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), “no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.”
Smart meters send information to utilities by using radio frequencies (RFs) such as those currently used by televisions, radios, baby monitors, cell phones and wifi routers. RF signals have permeated our atmosphere for as long as we’ve had televisions and radios.
We use these devices every day, and many of them create much higher levels of RF exposure than smart meters. The exposure level depends on the strength of the RF signal emitted by the device, the duration of the RF signal and—importantly— the distance from the source. Cell phones emit up to several thousand times more RF signals than smart meters. Smart meters also transmit intermittently and briefly during the day, while we talk on cell phones for long periods. Finally, smart meters are located outside the home, while cell phones are often used close to one’s head.
These factors result in a dramatic difference in RF exposure from smart meters compared to cell phones. So, whether or not future studies find that RFs cause health impacts (because current studies do not; see these reports by: Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and Electric Power Research Industry), smart meters make up a very small part of a person’s daily exposure.
Smart meters are an integral part of a smarter utility system that makes better use of distributed, clean energy, manages energy demand more intelligently and gives customers – for the first time ever – an active role in using, choosing and controlling the energy they need to power their homes and businesses. Smart meters are an important ingredient in designing a clean, less polluting, low-carbon energy system.
EDF has a long history of working at the intersection where the environment meets human health, and our internal experts have taken a very hard look at the available research on RFs. However, we support utilities taking a proactive consumer-oriented approach to smart grid installations, including allowing individuals who oppose the installation of smart meters in their homes to be able to opt out. The opt out option not only allows people to control whether or not they receive a smart meter, but it also allows everyone else – customers and utilities included – to reap the vast array of economic, environmental and health benefits from modernizing our antiquated, wasteful and polluting energy infrastructure.
Given the significant environmental and health-related benefits that could result from a more efficient, resilient grid by way of more locally-generated clean energy and fewer fossil-fuel power plants, EDF believes that case for smart meters is much stronger than the case against them. The following states investigated the issue in connection with their smart grid deployments and reached the same conclusion: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Wyoming and most recently Texas.
For more information on this topic, please see the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative’s video Separating the facts from the Fiction about Smart Meters.