Electricity meters on many New Zealand homes including homes in the Roundabout circulation area are being replaced with the so-called “Smart” or “Advanced” meters. Compared to a standard electricity meter, a smart meter is essentially a surveillance device with a microwave transmitter. It collects detailed real-time information about your electricity usage and transmits it to your electricity provider through the air using the cell tower network.
With a standard electricity meter the electricity provider only gets one meter reading every two months – enough to issue a bill. With a smart meter there can be a meter reading every minute. This information is transmitted through the air and stored by the electricity provider. As with any personal information there is a risk of it being intercepted or misused. Due to centralized data storage there is also a risk of someone hacking into the database and retrieving data for thousands of homes. Detailed electricity usage information can be used to figure out when the property owner is usually not home, when they cook, when they shower, when they make a cup of tea, when they go to bed, etc.
Why do the electricity providers need to know so much more detail about our electricity usage? The main reason is time-based tariffs. Once enough smart meters are installed, the electricity companies will introduce increased charges for electricity that is used during peak times. In other words it will be more expensive to use electricity when you need it the most. For example, when working people come home in the evening and need to heat the home and cook dinner.
According to the smart meter manufacturer, “It will be possible for the energy distributor to control devices in the home to manage load at times when there is not enough supply, and it is possible that in future consumers will be able to control devices in the home via the Internet.” This is done with the second internal microwave transmitter: “A home-area network (HAN) is a means for utility companies to extend their reach beyond the meter, and to incorporate the ‘smart thermostat’, direct load control appliances, smart appliances and in-home energy display into utility systems, as well as to enable demand response (DR) and energy efficiency programs.” (Source: arcinnovations.com) Every property owner needs to ask themselves if they are comfortable with having technology that in the future can allow their electricity provider to remotely control appliances inside their home, and to collect information about when and how they use those appliances.
Due to their reliance on microwave transmitters, smart meters have already caused a surge of health complaints across the US. Based on my measurements in Laingholm, the microwave transmitter inside a smart meter is equivalent to a cell phone operating at its maximum power and sending a text message every two minutes. Every flat of every house has its own separate meter, so multiply this by the number of nearby meters. These measurements apply only to the external modem – when internal HAN modems are enabled the microwave radiation will increase further. [Note: see my article about cell towers and microwave radiation for more information about the health risks associated with this type of technology.]
Each smart meter costs hundreds of dollars to produce and install. There is a cost for it to remain constantly connected to the cellular network and to send all the data. IT infrastructure and IT staff are needed to process and store this data. Can this really be cheaper than one visit from a low-paid meter reader once every two months? The fixed daily electricity charges have gone up by 50 to 80% in recent months for unexplained reasons.
Power companies have been pushing this program at a very fast pace and leaving the public mostly uninformed. Typically a household will receive a letter that informs them that their meter will be replaced, touting no more meter reader visits, no estimate bills and ability to view power usage online, but giving no other information and no option of opting out. Some power companies went as far as lying to customers by saying that smart meters are required by the new electricity regulations. There is no law that requires a smart meter. The new regulations require that any electricity meter has an up-to-date calibration to ensure its accuracy. Older electricity meters can be re-calibrated if their certification is due to expire. [Confirmed by the manufacturer.]
If you don’t want a smart meter, it is important to let your electricity provider know. To avoid “accidental” installations some people also put a notice on their meter box and padlock it (ensuring that the meter can still be read). Some people succeeded in negotiating for their smart meter to be removed and replaced with a normal meter. See www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz for up-to-date information about what you can do.
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PUBLISHED IN SEP 2014 ISSUE OF LAINGHOLM ROUNDABOUT.