Smart Electric Meters
This page last updated February 27, 2014.
To view Smart Meter News, click here.
To view an update, dated September 16, 2013, with photos and measurements of smart electric meters in the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) service area taken in July 2012, click here.
To see my study to determine whether dirty electricity is present in smart meters in Southern and Central California, click here.
Summary of Oram's Findings and Conclusions Regarding Smart Meters to date:
Note: While many of these comments pertain to smart meters everywhere in the US and Canada, a good deal of the following information and comments pertain primarily to EMF-sensitive and EMF-concerned people living in Southern California.
Also, my focus is on the known and suspected health effects of short- and long-term exposure to smart meters. I let other concerned individuals and activists focus on the other downsides of smart meters, including privacy, billing and potential fire issues.
Here is what I do know:
I am in contact with engineers within my profession to review my findings for accuracy and to help our profession develop a reliable, consistent protocol for measuring harmonics of dirty electricity throughout the country and Canada to verify that they do exist as universally as is now presumed. We want to be accurate in knowing exactly what is causing the symptoms that people genuinely do feel with these devices, and we also want to maintain our credibility among outside engineers and utility representatives with whom we communicate as we try to find solutions to this health issue.
Here is what I do not know:
In conclusion, it is my observation that smart meters in Southern California produce beacon transmissions that are less strong and occur less often compared to those in Northern and Central California. It is also my observation that smart meters outside Northern California may not be producing dirty electricy. I present these observations and the conclusions they lead me to not to support the deployment of smart meters, but rather to separate fact from assumption and so that concerned people can focus on what is truly causing their symptoms and what is not.
Furthermore, it upholds our credibility to be accurate in what we actually measure and to what we attribute the very real symptoms that many people have and continue to experience from smart meters.
(End of July 4, 2013 summary.)
Update 9/12/13: I traveled to Central California in July 2012 and had an opportunity to personally evaluate smart electric meters on three homes in the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) service area. The meters were Landis+Gyr models. I also measured one home with a GE electromechanical (analog) opt out electric meter.
This update, dated September 12, 2013, includes photos and oscilloscope tracings from my visit to those three homes in the San Luis Obispo area, which are shown below.
I specifically measured what we call "beacon signals" sent out several times every minute of the day and night from these smart electric meters. These are not the signals that transmit the actual data of electricity usage, which happens only once or twice each day. Rather, these are signals that occur quite regularly to "keep the mesh network healthy" by synchronizing all the smart meters in the neighborhood so that when the data is scheduled to be sent, the mesh network works as planned and the data from all the meters gets sent successfully. Unfortunately, these beacon signals (along with the daily data signals) also make many people quite ill.
The readings I measured for the power density, or strength, of the beacon signals at these three homes was much higher than the levels that I routinely measure down here in Southern Calfornia, by a factor of at least 75-100 times. However, they were right in keeping with power density levels for smart meters in PG&E's service area reported by activists in Northern California and as seen in numerous YouTube videos recorded by those homeowners and activists.
Furthermore, the number of beacon signal microburst transmissions measured per minute at these three homes was also much more often than I routinely record from Itron Openway smart meters used by electric utilities here in Southern California, by a factor of 15-20 times. In Southern California, the beacon signals occur on average twice per minute. At these three homes, on the other hand, the signals occurred every few seconds, sometimes in rapid bursts.
Here is an overview of my measurement of a PG&E Landys+Gyr smart meter at a home in Morro Bay. Readings were obtained at roughly 6:00 PM on July 29, 2012:
Here are two close-ups of the smart meter, identifying it as a Landys+Gyr model from PG&E:
Here is a close-up of the brand of radio frequency (RF) detector used, an HF35C made by Gigahertz Solutions in Germany:
When radio frequency readings exceed the maximum that this detector can measure, which would be in the "course" setting and the number is higher than 1,999 microWatts/meter squared (uW/m2), then it is necessary to insert what is known as an attenuator to get a reading. That condition certainly occurs when you measure three feet from a smart meter when it is transmitting a beacon signal.
The attenuator is a filter that condenses the reading down to a scale that can be read by the detector. The attenuator reduces the reading by a factor of 20 decibles (20 dB), which means a 100 fold reduction. You therefore must multiply the reading on the screen by 100 in order to get the correct radio frequency exposure level.
Here is a photo of the attenuator in place:
Here are two views of the RF detector on the "course" setting, which can read up to roughly 2,000 uW/m2, but with the attenuator in place, the detector can actually now read up to 200,000 uW/m2 (100 times 2,000):
Here are photos of two readings I obtained during micro-bursts of radio frequency transmission during a beacon signal from the Landis+Gyr smart meter. In the first photo below, the detector screen reads, "898." This signifies a radio frequency power density, or strength, of 89,800 microWatts/meter squared (because when you multiply 898 times 100, you get 89,800).
The second photo shows a situation where the screen is blank, except for a vertical mark on the left (which is not the number "one"). This signifies that the RF detector is reading a radio frequency level that exceeds the limit of this RF detector with the attenuator in place, which is 200,000 microWatts/meter squared:
This means that the Landys+Gyr smart meter being measured at a house in Morro Bay in the Pacific Gas & Electric service area is sending out radio frequency microbursts in excess of 200,000 microWatts/meter squared at three feet, comparable to readings reported by smart meter activists in Northern California, as shown by videos they post on YouTube. This confirmed for me what they are reporting, and I have also measured radio frequency power density levels from smart electric meters around the country that are as high as those measured in Central California.
Those readings are, however, much higher than the standard 8,000 - 15,000 uW/m2, if that, that I routinely measure from all Itron smart electric meters here in the Southern California Edison service area. The strength of the RF beacon signal from mart meters in the San Diego Gas & Electric service area is usually even less strong, only in the range of 3,000 to 6,000 uW/m2 at 3 feet, occasionally up to 9,000 uW/m2.
The next day of my trip to Central California, July 30, 2012, I measured two more Landys+Gyr smart electric meters at homes in Templeton, just east of Morro Bay and north of San Luis Obispo. I did not take photographs of those measurements, but I measured power density levels at three feet from these PG&E Landis+Gyr smart meters at levels that ranged from 160,000 microWatts/meter squared (uW/m2) to in excess of 200,000 uW/m2, the level that again exceeds the ability of my Gigahertz Solutions HF35C radio frequency detector to measure.
Granted, this is still less than the 5.3 million uW/m2 allowed by the FCC (equal to 0.53 milliWatt/centimeter squared, their safe exposure limit set in 1997 for 900 MHz, the frequency used for the neighborhood area network of smart meters) -- see my Article on Radio Frequency EMFs and scroll down to the section entitled, "The FCC versus the Rest of the World" -- but it is well above the "Extreme Concern" level as determined by the building biology profession and many other independent sources of only 1,000 uW/m2 (click here for the standards).
Furthermore, when I stepped back to 8 feet from the two PG&E Landys+Gyr smart meters in Templeton, I still measured readings as high as 54,000 uW/m2. When I moved further back to 30 feet from the smart meter, the reading reduced to 160 uW/m2.
Compare these readings taken in Central California in excess of 200,000 uW/m2 at 3 feet to the 8,000 - 15,000 uW/m2 range that I typically measure at the same distance from Itron Openway smart meters on homes in the Southern Califonria Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric service areas. Likewise, compare the 54,000 uW/m2 measured at these homes in Central California at 8 feet to typical readings I obtain at 8 feet from Itron smart meters in Southern California of only 300 - 1,000 uW/m2.
Furthermore, once again, the beacon signals occurred at these three homes in PG&E territory every few seconds, sometimes in rapid succession, compared to only once every 30 seconds on average from Itron Openway smart meters in Southern California.
The bottom line appears to be that while many people, particularly those who are electrically hypersensitive, are bothered very much by smart electric meters in Southern California, we seem to have dodged a bullet, at least to some degree, compared to homeowners in Northern California and the rest of the country and Canada where many more people are bothered by smart meters than down here. That does not mean that I endorse smart meters. They are not healthy and need to be eliminated altogether, but at least in this corner of the state and country, our smart meters are not as strong, nor do the beacon signals occurr as often, as smart meters elsewhere in California nor in the rest country.
Furthermore, and this to me is the most important point, there are many other sources of EMFs in homes, including sources of radio frequencies, that are more powerful and bothersome for most people here in Southern California than smart meters. For example, while local Itron smart meters, once again, have a power flux density of 8,000 - 15,000 uW/m2 at 3 feet that transmits only once every 20-30 seconds on average, I routinely measure up to 90,000 - 120,000 uW/m2 at 3 feet from a typical Wi-Fi router, which are found in many homes. This is 8 to 10 times stronger than Itron smart meters and the router transmits continuously, 24/7. The same is true for cordless telephone base units, which can transmit at 30,000 - 40,000 uW/m2 and higher at 3 feet. Cell phones, tablets and lap top computers can and do likewise transmit at higher levels, up to tens and hundreds of microWatts per meter squared, than Itron smart meters when measured at the same distance.
The bottom line for me is that people in Southern California need to learn about and reduce all sources of EMFs in their homes, including smart meters, but be aware that smart meters, at least in this part of California, are not the major health hazard for the general public that they truly are elsewhere. Do opt out of your smart meter and get behind the very necessary efforts of local smart meter groups to convert them to hardwired technology (using telephone and Internet lines, rather than wirelessly, for transmitting data, as is done in Italy and elsewhere), but also learn about, remove and reduce use of all the other sources of EMFs that lurk in your home. Read the Articles on EMFs page on this website to link to articles that discuss these various types of EMFs and how to reduce them.
(End of 9/16/13 update.)
My original Smart Meter Article starts below after "Smart Meter News." This includes a discussion of a study I have conducted of circuits in homes with smart meters in Southern California.
I also present the results of my evaluation of smart meters in Central California in July 2012 in the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) serivce area on a separate smart meter study page. I conducted this evaluation due to reports of voltage harmonics of "dirty electricity" produced by switched mode power supplies in smart meters on homes in Northern and Central California in the PG&E service area. This is part of a larger study that I am conducting to see if these harmonics are indeed being produced by the smart meters used in Southern California, and in collaboration with colleagues in the building biology profession, elsewhere in the US and Canada.
Click here to view the study, which was updated December 8, 2012.
I also present information that sheds light on why so many people are reacting negatively to the presence of smart meters on their houses and in their neighborhoods, including evidence that the signal strength of the radio frequency (RF) transmitter is much higher at the time of data transmission than the transmissions to synchronize the mesh network throughout the rest of the day. There is also a discussion of the adverse health effects of the short, sharp and persistent nature of RF spikes from smart meters compared to the continuous RF transmitted from more commonly used wireless devices, as harmful as those can be. The updated article can be found after Smart Meter News below.
I wrote two articles in September 2012 on smart meters that appeared in the blog for fellow building biologists Ron and Lisa Beres of Irvine, California, the Healthy Home Dream Team. To view the first article, entitled "Smart Meters: Should We Be Concerned?", click here. To view the second article, entitled, "Smart Meters: The Dirty Truth", click here.
To view an excellent power point presentation on Smart Grid & Smart Meter Architecture, presented by engineer and fellow building biologist
Tom Wilson of Orlando, Florida, at the
Wireless Safety Summit in Washington, D.C.
on October 5, 2011, click
Smart Meter News
Nein! Germany ministry rejects smart meters
UK delays all Smart meter installations by a year. Italy bans them entirely.
Cindy Sage & LA DWP discuss 'Smart' Meters (part 2)
Getting Smarter About the Smart Grid
CPUC Approves Analog Meters for Southern California Edison and
San Diego Gas and Electric customers
Ojai Places Moratorium On Smart Meter Installation
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine Calls for Immediate Caution
regarding Smart Meter Installation
Electric bill skyrockets after smart meter; opt-out option coming, but will cost
The Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved by a vote of 2 to 1 to allow Nevada electric utility customers to opt out of having smart meters on their homes.
The Michigan State legislature has two proposed bills before it to allow citizens to opt out of their state's smart meter program.
These are Michigan House Bill 5411 (here) and House Bill 5439 (here).
Maine PUC to require opt out for 'smart meters'
PG&E offers to let customers keep analog, mechanical meters
Center for Safer Wireless has released a
Citizens Call for Action by the Congress and the Administration. This is based upon information presented
at the Wireless Safety Summit, held this past October 2011 in Washington, DC. To view the document, click
A new nationwide citizen's action website,
Smart Meter Help, has been launched by
Stop Smart Meters and Sandra Maurer's
EMF Safety Network, both in Northern California.
Here are news reports on the Southern California Smart Meter Forum held on Thursday, November 10, 2011 in Glendale, California, sponsored by BurbankACTION and Stop OC Smart Meters, featuring Cindy Sage, Mindy Spatt, and Orlean Koehle:
Oram's Smart Meter Article:
Note: There is information that can explain why people in Southern California, whether previously electrically-sensitive or not, are reacting adversely to smart meters when many of these people can tolerate the use of other wireless devices, even if dirty power from the smart meter is not the cause. I say this because the preliminary results of my survey of smart meters appears to show no evidence of voltage spikes from those smart meters. Click here to view the study.
The finding that smart meters used in Southern Calfornia do not appear to emit harmful voltage spikes of dirty electricity has led me to the conclusion that the reasons for the intolerance to smart meters must be:
This could explain why some people are particularly bothered by smart meters even with the growing likelihood that the smart meter brands used in Southern California are not emitting harmful voltage spikes.
We may therefore be able to consider ruling out this one type of EMF, that is, voltage spikes, as a cause of people's symptoms from the brands of smart meters used in Southern California while we continue our efforts to recommend opting out and eventually banning smart meters altogther. That is necessary because of the harm they cause from the short, sharp, repeated microbursts 24/7 as well as the high RF levels emitted once or twice per day at the time of data transmission.
When it comes to radio frequency exposure, it may indeed be the case that power density alone is not the determining factor as to why one wireless device is more or less harmful than another. It has also to do with complex biological effects from the sharpness and persistence of the transmission.
Smart meters have become a serious health threat for many people in California and around the world. Reports of headache, dizziness, tinnitus, and lethargy abound. I personally hear from clients every week who say they have lived in their homes, sometimes for decades, without symptoms, and the day their smart meter was installed or soon thereafter, symptoms began or significantly worsened. This is disheartening to these people, to say the least, and quite perplexing to those of us who are consultants in this field. Why would one particular technology be so troubling to a certain group of people?
One answer, at least for people in those areas where it is a problem, is provided by engineer Rob States of San Francisco and others, who have found voltage spikes on circuits in homes with smart meters used by Pacific Gas & Electric, including smart meters made by GE and Landis Gyr.
Rob believes these voltage spikes, which leak off circuits and plastic power cords into rooms throughout the home, cause as many symptoms as those caused by radio frequencies. I have evaluated homes here in Southern California with Itron and Trilliant brand smart meters and have not found the same voltage spikes, so far. Click here to view the study. If, however, you live in an area of the country or Canada where your utility uses other brands, you may have this problem. It is discussed in detail below.
The big issue for us here in Southern California, and for everyone else in the US and Canada who also have voltage spikes, is the mesh network of radio frequencies, or RF, in which every smart meter transmits its data one or more times per day to the central office. These data transmission are the highest in terms of the strength of the signal, and can be much higher than, or at least equal to, the RF signal strength from commonly used wireless devices such as cell phones, Wi-Fi and cordless phones.
These RF transmissions from smart meters are not just limited to once or twice per day, however, as they also broadcast intermittently once or more every minute 24/7 with a somewhat lower, but still harmful, power density transmission. This is done to keep the smart meters synchronized so that when the time of transmission comes, which is midnight, for instance, in the Southern California Edison service area, they will work properly.
Many people are particularly sensitive to the short, sharp nature of these microbursts, which can last only milliseconds, and they are also sensitive to the mesh network of radio frequencies in the neighborhood around them even if they have opted out and have a non-transmitting meter on their house and even at levels below what we can measure with our radio frequency detectors.
Our Focus is on the Health Effects, but Other Problems Exist from Smart Meters
Electric (and water and gas) utilities are replacing existing analog meters with digital smart meters as part of a world-wide effort to reduce electricity use and improve efficiency in homes and businesses. There are many down sides to smart meters besides health. These include concerns about potential breaches of privacy, reports of overcharging, and unintended damage to household appliances, particularly to low-voltage systems such as landscaping lighting, even an occasional fire. Clients tell me they hear this from smart meter installers and utility officials alike. One local utility worker told a client of mine that all he does is fix problems caused by smart meters.
While the reasons given by electric utilities for deploying these meters have merit on a theoretical basis, there are numerous consequences that need to be addressed. Workarounds do exist for some of the adverse health effects they create, which we discuss below. However, replacing smart meters with analog meters is always the best choice, which for a growing number of electric customers throughout California, is now an option.
Finally, while we support efforts to preserve homeowner privacy and generally oppose opt out fees, we focus our primary attention in my profession on educating the public about and mitigating the health impact of smart meter deployment.
Radio Frequency Communication Devices: The First Source of EMFs in Smart Meters
The way that smart meters relay information to the central office for utilities here in Southern California is through the use of radio transmitters. That is the case for homes in the service areas of SCE, SDG&E, Glendale and Burbank Water & Power, and Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (which has deployed only a limited number of smart meters thus far).
There are two radio transmitters in each smart meter. The first communicates with a neighborhood area network (NAN) at approximately 900 MegaHertz (MHz). This mesh network allows each meter to send its data to a neighboring meter. That data is fed up a heirarchy of collector meters on homes until the information from hundreds of meters reaches a single designated meter, which then sends it via cell phone frequencies to a nearby cell tower. From there it is sent to the electric utility office. This is the method used by Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. Other local utilities, such as Glendale Water and Power (GWP) also use wireless transmitters in smart meters on homes, but the data is sent to collector receivers on utility poles, not to other smart meters on people's homes.
The actual transmission of data is programed to only occur once per day at midnight for Southern California Edison customers. Smart meters of other companies transmit data two or more times per day. As mentioned above, there are, however, microbursts of radio frequency emitted by smart meters from different utilities throughout Southern California as often as several times per minute. I asked an Edison mesh network administrator what these were, and he said they were radio frequency signals intended to synchronize the meters to "keep the network healthy." This is to insure that when the designated time arrives, which is at midnight for Edison customers, the system operates as expected and the data is transmitted properly.
The other radio transmitter in each smart electric meter is designed to send a signal to and from appliances within your home to monitor and manage electricity use by appliances. Right now, some appliance manufacturers are already selling products with a built-in radio transmitter. As the appliance stock is turned over in the coming years, new refrigerators, stoves, washing machines and other appliances will contain these radio transmitters.
This is called the home area network (HAN), often referred to as a Zigbee system. It operates at 2.4 GigaHertz (GHz), the same frequency used by some cordless telephones and all wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) routers. This transmitter is not yet activated in the smart meters deployed by electric utilities in Southern California and reportedly will only be activated if and when a homeowner signs up to monitor electric usage by appliances. That is the position of Glendale Water and Power (GWP) and Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California. Burbank Water and Power does not even have Zigbee transmitters in its meters and only uses a transmitter for the neighborhood area network.
Smart Meter Frequencies and the Strength of the Radiated Signal
The frequencies transmitted by either radio transmitter are the same as those used by cell phones, cordless telephones and Wi-Fi routers, devices already in use by millions of people throughout the world (and which are known to cause ill health). I have measured the power flux density, or strength of the radiated signal, of smart meters used in Southern California to be roughly the same as that found in these wireless communication devices, which is lower than RF levels measured from smart meters elsewhere in the state and country. I have verified this at client's homes with my Gigahertz Solutions HF35C and HFE35C radio frequency (RF) detectors, based upon mesurements of dozens of Itron Openway brand smart meters on homes in the Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, and Glendale and Burbank Water & Power service areas.
We hear a different story, however, from elsewhere in California and around the country, where they correctly say that the transmitted power density of RF transmissions from smart meters in their areas are as high as "50 to 100 times" that of cell phones, cordless phone base units, and Wi-Fi. While this is certainly true elsewhere, it appears that the radio frequency power flux density readings I measure from Itron Openway and Trilliant brand smart meters here in Southern California are less in intensity than that being measured from different smart meters elsewhere in the country.
I had direct confirmation of this recently when I sent my Gigahertz Solutions HF35C radio frequency analyzer to a colleague in the Washington, DC area. He used it to measure RF levels at hotels my profession considered for a conference we will hold on smart meters and other EMF and healthy home topics this coming October of 2012. We had to find a hotel that our EMF-sensitive attendees can sit in for three days without RF beaming in from a nearby cell tower. We found such a hotel, and we will have the staff turn off the Wi-Fi in our meeting and sleeping rooms while we are there.
My colleague told me he also measured GE brand smart meters on homes in Washington, DC, and said the RF meter consistently measured readings in excess of 1,999 microWatts/meter squared, the maximum that the HF35C RF meter can display without having to use an attenuator filter to get higher readings, when he stood more than 30 feet from the GE smart meter. I told him I had never measured that powerful a signal at that distance from any Itron Openway smart meter on any house here in Southern California with that very same meter.
This information, coupled with a comparison of the readings I get here in SoCal to those seen on YouTube videos obtained by people elsewhere from different brands of smart meters using the same HF35C RF detector, proves to me that Itron smart meters found here are lower in power density output than other brands of smart meters used elsewhere in the US and Canada.
This indicates that the utilities here in Southern California program the radio transmitters in their smart meters to trasmit their RF signal at a weaker strength than other utilities using other brands of smart meters elsewhere. I have even seen a slight difference between utilities in this area using the same Itron Openway brand smart meters. Southern California Edison has the highest RF levels at roughly 8,000-15,000 microWatts/meter squared measured at 3 feet standing outside directly in front of the smart meter with no shielding, while Glendale Water & Power and San Diego Gas & Electric are somewhat lower at roughly 3,000-6,000 microWatts/meter squared at the same distance. Measured RF levels are reported to be much higher, however, from other brands of smart meters used by utilities elsewhere in the state and country.
RF readings are further reduced when I measure inside the house near the wall on which the smart meter is mounted. This is due to the shielding that stucco walls provide and to the large metal backing of the box on which the meter is mounted, which is also partially shielding.
As a result, I see levels of roughly than 300-500 microWatts/meter squared one to two feet inside the wall, which drop further to 30-60 microWatts/meter squared in the middle of the room, six feet away, considered to be less harmful for a healthy person by my profession, and this is with no additional shielding. Moreover, because radio frequencies drop off by the inverse squared law, the intensity or power of any radio signal from any source is substantially lower even six to eight feet away.
Compare that to popular wireless devices found in many people's lives, where radio frequency levels from a typical Version 6.0 DECT cordless telephone or Internet router with Wi-Fi enabled will be 30,000-50,000 microWatts/meter squared at the same distance of 3 feet, triple what I measure outside standing 2-3 feet from an Itron smart meter.
Furthermore, a cordless telephone handset or cell phone held next to the head generates over 200,000 microWatts/meter squared, a significantly unhealthy level from our perspective (but still well within the accepatble level according to the FCC -- see my Article on Radio Frequency EMFs by clicking here.)
Even with lower power density levels of smart meters in Southern California, these readings are still too high for you to safely sleep with the head of your bed against the wall with the smart meter without shielding. You can and should move your bed as far away from the smart meter as possible, shield the smart meter inside and out, and ultimately, opt out for an analog meter, if you can.
Power Density of RF Does Not Tell the Whole Story -- Health Effects from Microbursts of RF
Even if we consider that RF levels from brands of smart meters used here in Southern California are lower in intensity than smart meters used elsewhere, that does not explain why certain people are so bothered by these devices. Reports are numerous of homeowners who have had no problem in their home for decades, and then suddenly having ringing in the ears, headaches, insomnia, rashes, head pressure, memory loss, dizziness, weakness, "brain fog" and other symptoms when the smart meter is installed. What could be causing this?
The consensus is that it is the short, sharp, and persistent nature of the microbursts of RF from smart meters that makes them so harmful compared to the more continuous nature of RF from commonly used wireless devices. Here is one report from a prominent smart meter activist in Canada who is himself electrically hypersensitive:
"I have been badly affected by Smart Meters in Stratford, Ontario. I think that the reason that the meters are causing so much sickness is the powerful bursts they send, which may be every few seconds or every few minutes. It's like a small shock to the body, each time they send their burst of radiation. Most other forms of EMR are generally continuous signals, that the body can become more accustomed (to). A smart meter burst can shock my heart out of sync, but a Wi Fi will cause different affects like itches, muscle shakes, headaches, sleep difficulties, etc."
Then there is the issue of the strength of the RF signal during the time of transmission, which has been shown to be much higher than the strength of the synchronous microbursts throughout the day and night. Peter Sierck is beginning to establish that there is a significantly higher power flux density transmitted by the smart meters he studied at the time it is programmed to transmit its data than he measured when it sends out its microbursts of RF several times per minute to "synchronize the network" throughtout the day and night.
Peter's findings were obtained using a Gigahertz Solutions HF59B RF analyzer connected to a data logger that monitored the strength of radio frequency transmissions by the smart meter over 24 hours. Peter reportedly found high peaks of radio frequency transmission at roughly 11 AM and 4 PM, the same times that San Diego Gas & Electric schedules its Itron smart meters to transmit their data. A follow-up study at another home in the SDG&E service area again showed high spikes but in this case at five different times throughout the 24 hour period at roughly 11:30PM, 2AM, 4AM, and two spikes just before 3 PM.
Putting This All into Perspective
The bigger picture is that all wireless devices are harmful, particularly smart meters, and you should find ways to reduce their use, increase distance and eliminate them altogher if possible. The harmful health effects from all forms of RF are cumulative, just as with cigarette smoking in the '50s and '60s. If you are concerned about RF from a smart meter, you should also be concerned about the cell phone, cordless telephone, Wi-Fi router and laptop that you use. However, smart meters have a unique effect, and you should sign up for your utility's opt out program if they have one.
To learn steps you can take to safeguard yourself against EMF exposure in general, click on Tips for a Healthy Home, Articles on EMFs, Safer Use of Computers, and Steps to Protect Yourself from Cell Phone Frequencies.
What I have discussed up to this point is the situation for relatively healthy people.
Everything is Different for the Electrically-Sensitive Person
Having said all that, the situation is even worse for an already electrically hypersensitive (EHS or EMS) person. These people cannot tolerate wireless technologies at virtually any distance and have a zero tolerance policy towards them. They will not have any wireless devices in their homes by choice, and they are particularly bothered by the short, sharp, and persistent microbursts of RF from smart meters on their and their neighbors' homes at distances well beyond what any of our radio frequency detectors can measure.
This is a fact of life for these people that is completely misunderstood by mainstream physicians, researchers, and utility and governmental regulatory officials, not to mention the EHS person's skeptical family and friends. The needs of this group, conservatively estimated to number anywhere between 3 and 15% of the total population, are not being considered by industry, government or the medical profession. The Council of Europe, on the other hand, calls for recognition of the electrically sensitive in its resolution, passed in May 2011 and discussed below.
Fortunately electric utilities in California now offer analog meter opt out programs for most customers who want them, which is a step in the right direction. For others who cannot get an analog meter, they can at least have the radio frequency transmitter turned off. However, until you get an analog meter or you live in a part of the country where you have a smart meter and cannot opt out, many people are bothered by the RF. Some are also bothered by the "dirty power" from some smart meters throughout the country that leaks off circuits and plastic AC power cords plugged in throughout the house.
It is this EHS population that we in the building biology profession focus our attention upon. We also try to recommend the same stringent standards to the general public (to the extent they will listen!), following the precautionary principle in order to avoid risk.
The main difficulty that electrically sensitive individuals have with smart meters is the microbursts of radio frequencies lasting only milliseconds, repeated several times per minute from their smart meter, day and night. Some amount of radio frequencies do get through stucco and the metal backing of the meter box. Glass windows offer no protection whatsoever without shielding. For those who are sensitive to this, there are shielding strategies that have been effective to varying degrees, and they are reviewed below.
Utility officials incorrectly assume that if a radio frequency detector shows no significantly measurable levels of RF (and what they consider to be a safe threshold is much higher than what we do), then the transmitting device must be safe. Researchers, building biologists and electrically-sensitive individuals throughout the world know otherwise, that the human body is more sensitive than radio frequency detectors. This means that electrically sensitive people can still be bothered by wireless devices beyond the distance that our meters pick them up, even at the more stringent levels that we accept as safe. Furthermore, few people, and fewer utility officials, know about and recognize the dirty power created by electronic components inside some brands of smart meter, which EHS people can be extremely bothered by.
Electric utilities also claim that smart meters emit the same frequencies as cell phones and Wi-Fi routers and at the same power density levels, and frankly, they are right with regards to the Itron smart meters used here in Southern California. Utility representatives mistakenly assume, however, that since wireless devices are used by virtually everyone and have been with us for years, they must be safe and would be accepted by everyone. They fail to recognize that electrically-sensitive individuals are significantly bothered by radio waves and choose to not have wireless devices in their homes at all. These devices are like poison to them, and the sharp nature of the RF microbursts are particularly bothersome. The electrically hypersensitive must protect themselves when in the public. These are choices they must make. With smart meters, however, up till now they have had no choice. Having a smart meter on their home is not something they would choose.
Fortunately many California utilities now offer various opt out options, including restoring and keeping analog meters. These plans do differ from company to company, and they are explained in detail below.
Switched Mode Power Supplies, Causing "Dirty Power": The Second Source of EMFs in Smart Meters
An additional type of EMF is produced by certain brands of smart meters throughout the US and Canada, known as "dirty power" or "dirty electricity." This is harmonic frequencies riding on the 60 cycle per second, or 60 Hertz, electric power on utility power lines and on circuits and plastic AC power cords plugged in throughout your house. These harmonic frequencies, measured as voltage spikes on an oscilloscope, are produced by energy-efficient devices, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), halogen lights, dimmer switches, and transformers, among other devices.
One particular type of transmformer, known as the switched mode power supply, or SMPS, is particularly known to produce voltage spikes of dirty electricity. An SMPS is needed to transform 240 Volts of electricity passing through a smart meter down to 2-6 Volts to power the circuit boards that measure electricity and also that broadcast data. Filters do exist in all brands of smart meters, according to some engineers, just as they do in other appliances, such as computers, printers and audio equipment that also have switched mode power supplies, to filter these harmonics so that, for instance, audible noise does not occur on speakers and computers are not affected.
Some smart meter manufacturers apparently do not use high quality filters and their switched mode power supplies create high voltage spikes, sending out noise and higher frequency harmonics onto circuits and power cords throughout the house. These frequencies, usually in the 4,000-100,000 Hertz (or 4-100 kiloHertz) range, leak off circuits and cords up to 6-8 feet into rooms, and they bother electrically-sensitive people. They can also leak off power lines into neighborhoods.
Voltage spikes of dirty power have been measured consistently in homes with GE and Landi Gyr brand smart meters in the Pacific Gas & Electric service area by Rob States and his colleagues in Northern California. This is reported extensively in Rob's article on the Environmental Options Network EMF blog and in his thirty-minute radio interview recorded on October 13, 2011 with San Diego's Dr. William Deagle.
I have begun a study of over 25 homes with smart and analog meters in Southern California using my own oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer to verify the presence of these same harmonic voltage spikes. To date, I have found no voltage spikes that cannot be attributed to some other cause. The study is ongoing and my findings are being reviewed by my colleagues, who are engineers, but so far, my conclusion is that dirty power from smart meters is not a problem that we are dealing with here in Southern California. To view the study, click here.
You will also find an excellent primer on smart meters from building biologist and electrical engineer, Sal LaDuca of New Jersey by clicking here. Sal has also written an article specifically on "dirty electricity filters" and Switch-Mode Power Supplies found here.
Possible Medical Explanation for Hypersensitivity to Dirty Power
An important part of the discussion between Dr. William Deagle and Rob States in their October 13, 2011 interview is Dr. Deagle's suggestion that the symptoms experienced by Rob's electrically-sensitive clients seemed to him to be due to cellular de-mineralization.
Dr. Deagle said, "I expect this affects ion channels...The biggest thing to prevent the effect of dirty electricity and radiation RF is mineralization. It appears electromagnetic radiation smog is a de-mineralizer. The primary effect seems to be de-mineralization of tissue...I think what it's doing is it's jamming ion channels and it's jamming the normal trans-cellular membrane potentials so your body can't pump minerals in that need to be in like potassium, magnesium, so you get a functional deficiency of those minerals."
Dr. Deagle mentioned a buccal (inner cheek) scraping method to determine your cellular mineralization levels. He sells what he calls his "Electrosmog Smart Meter Protocol" using mineral salts and other ingredients. This is discussed in his radio interview with Rob. As always, check with your health care practitioner before beginning any supplementation regimen.
If true, this information could give us an important physiological explanation for just how symptoms of electrical hypersensitivity manifest. It also gives us a way to measure these cellular effects and a way in which EHS people can potentially be helped from a dietary standpoint. Rob says, "A couple of people I have met who are EMF-sensitive for decades, for a long period of time, they actually tailor their diet to how much RF they've been exposed to. And they'll typically go through doses of Vitamin C and other supplements when they encounter RF disease."
How to Opt Out in Southern California
For those who are bothered by the EMFs produced by smart meters and those who want to be cautious and avoid any health effects, here are the options you have at present to avoid the effects of smart meters for electric utility customers in Southern California:
Consensus Document on Smart Meters by Michael Schwaebe, PE, BBEC
We have developed a consensus document on smart meters drafted by a building biologist and professional engineer, Michael Schwaebe of San Diego, with help from other engineers who are also building biologists and from practicing building biologists, including Oram.
Michael prepared this document for a meeting he had with representatives of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to outline the true health impact of smart electric meters on the electrically sensitive and the general public. Our intent in preparing this document was to collobarate with electric utilities to identify the problem and propose technical solutions to result in a win:win solution for all concerned.
To see Michael Schwaebe's "Wireless Smart Meter Networks Problem Statement and Solution," in Word format, click here.
Smart Meter Website Links
Here are links to websites on Smart meters that you will find informative and helpful in learning what you can do for yourself and in your community.
To see links to websites with information on how to shield yourself from smart meters, see further below.
Smart Meter Health Alert -- Local Los Angeles initiative
The People's Initiative -- Local Los Angeles initiative
Burbank ACTION -- Local Burbank and Glendale, California initiative
Stop OC Smart Meters -- Local Orange County (California) initiative
Stop Smart Meters Irvine -- Local Irvine, California initiative
Smart Meter Help -- A joint project of EMF Safety Network and Stop Smart Meters. Encourages you to submit your smart meter complaint online to create a nationwide database to be submitted to utility companies, regulators and government officials.
Sage Reports -- Cindy Sage's website with her report on "Assessment of Radiofrequency Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters." Her firm, Sage Consulting, is based in Santa Barbara, California
EMF Safety Network -- Sandra Maurer's initiative in Sebastopol (Northern), California
Stop Smart Meters -- Joshua Hart's organization in Northern California
"Just Say No to Smart Meters" -- Orlean Koehl's initiative in Northern California
Refuse Smart Meters -- Based in Northern California
Environmental Options Network EMF Blog -- An excellent resource
Center for Safer Wireless -- Based in Virginia. The Center hosted the Wireless Safety Summit in October and will have audio and video of that conference available in December. Attendees met with their congressional delegations. As a result, "We have drafted a letter from Members of Congress to the US Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, asking her to investigate and issue health advisories concerning the potential adverse health effects due to nonionizing electromagnetic radiation from wireless communications technologies."
Smart Meter Safety Coalition -- Based in Maine
Smart Meter Matrix -- Based in Florida
Coalition to Stop Smart Meters -- Based in British Columbia
Citizens for Safe Technology -- Based in Canada
Smart Meter Shielding
If you already have a smart meter and are awaiting the opt out program or you live in a part of the country where an opt out program is not yet available, you can shield yourself from your smart meter, at least to some extent. It turns out that the diffusion pattern of the 900 MHz radio signal that communicates with neighboring smart meters on nearby houses as part of the neighborhood (mesh) area network (NAN) is 90% outwards from the smart meter and only 10% behind it back into the house. Rob States, however, says smart meters transmit most to the sides. We discuss shielding strategies below.
The other signal that the smart meter is capable of transmitting, the 2.4 GHz Zigbee transmitter, is designed to broadcast back into the house, but this has not been turned on yet by utilities until appliances are installed that have the transmitter to talk back to the smart meter as part of the home area network (HAN) and the homeowner has requested it. One utility, Glendale Water and Power Company, says it will only turn on the 2.4 GHz HAN transmitter when a customer signs up for the home area network option, designed to allow you to monitor electricity consumption by your appliances.
Regardless of the frequency, the strength of radio transmissions decreases exponentially with distance. I customarily measure up to a 90% reduction in signal strength of the radio transmission from a smart meter when I simply step back eight to ten feet from the meter outdoors. The readings that I get from the Itron smart meters used by electric utilities here in Southern California generally drops from 8,000-15,000 microWatts per square meter (uW/m2) at 2-3 feet to 300 uW/m2 or less at ten feet away.
Furthermore, the metal backing of the large metal box that the electric meter is mounted upon affords good shielding and effectively blocks most frequencies from coming indoors straight through the wall. Additionally, stucco siding found so commonly on California homes affords about 75% reduction of radio frequency transmissions that come indoors at an angle.
The net effect of a) having only a small portion of the major radio transmission aimed into the house, b) the natural reduction in field strength of any radio signal with distance, and, c) the shielding effect of metal and stucco, all results in more than a 90% reduction in the signal strength that I measure indoors compared with the readings at the same distance from the smart meter outdoors, without any additional shielding. The reading at 1-2 feet inside the wall indoors is generally 300 or so microWatts per meter squared. When I move six to eight feet further inside from the exterior wall, my radio frequency meter drops closer to less harmful exposure levels of 30-40 uW/m2 (we consider readings below 10 microWatts per meter squared to be safe for sleeping areas for all people except the most electrically-sensitive).
If this is your bedroom, however, you don't want microbursts of radio waves with a field strength of a few hundred microWatts per meter squared pulsing into your sleeping area day and night every ten to fifteen seconds. Until you can opt out of the smart meter program altogether, you want to either sleep in another room or add additional shielding in order to further reduce your exposure to these radio frequencies. This would include the use of any of the fabrics or non-toxic carbon-based paints sold by the retailers linked to below. These may be necessary, depending upon your level of sensitivity, even if you can opt out because radio frequencies can still enter your bedroom from smart meters on neighbors' homes, particularly through the glass in windows.
A more affordable, though less aesthetically pleasing alternative, at least temporarily, to shielding fabrics and paint is to use several layers of aluminum foil or several sheets of a thermal blanket sold for $4 at any sporting goods store. Place these on the inside of the wall that the smart meter is mounted upon. It is best to ground these with an alligator clip patch cord to the earth. The "gator to plug" patch cord is sold by Less EMF.
The best way to shield a smart meter, however, that I have seen is to use a Smart Meter Guard, sold by an engineer in Northern California for $129. It is well worth the cost. Made with a fine mesh screen on the sides and front, it fits easily over your smart meter and is tightened down with a screwdriver. The mesh guard is grounded to the metal box that the smart meter is mounted upon, increasing its RF-shielding effectiveness. The manufacturers have a YouTube video on his website showing how much attenuation (weakening or lessening) of the RF signal strength this shield is actually capable of achieving, which is impressive. It drops from an average of 54,000 microWatts/meter squared (uW/m2) down to below 60 uW/m2. Yet, they say the electric utility (Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California in their case) can still get its information from the daily transmission that sends data from smart meter to smart meter, and they therefore won't require you to remove the shield. (This goes to show you that the RF signal from smart meters doesn't need to be nearly as strong as it is, nor do the beacon signals need to be anywhere as often as they are. Remember, in Burbank, California, the beacon signal is only two to three times per hour, rather than once every few seconds, as you see in this video from Northern California. The beacon signal is represented by the clicks you hear almost constantly kn the video from the GE brand smart meter used by PG&E, shown mounted upon the manufacturer's house.)
Also, since a smart meter is mounted upon a grounded metal box, even in those parts of the country where that box is small and does not also contain breakers (as it does in California and the Southwest), the grounded metal behind the smart meter blocks almost all of the RF from passing straight back into the house (also, most of the RF signal from a smart meter is designed to transmit out away from the house anyway, with less than 10% of the signal going straight back, even if there is no shielding). This is verified with an RF detector similar to the one that I use (GigaHertz Solutions) as seen on one of the YouTube videos on the Smart Meter Guard website. For more information and to order a shield, go to www.smartmeterguard.com.
For windows, you can purchase a roll of aluminum window screen and place it over your window, or have a local hardware store replace the vinyl plastic window screen found on most windows today with true metal (aluminum or steel) mesh window screen. Even though we can see through it, to a radio wave, the metal mesh screen material looks like a solid wall and it is effectively blocked. More expensive transparent tinting material for windows is available from the retailers below.
As a reminder, you don't want to sleep with the head of your bed against the wall near the electric meter for a different reason. That is, the inevitable magnetic field exposure that all meters create within four feet in all directions.
Here are links to websites of companies that sell shielding material for radio freqeuncy transmissions:
Smart Meter Guard -- A fine wire mesh that encircles the smart meter on sides and front, which is grounded to the metal box upon which the smart meter is mounted. Based in Northern California.
Less EMF -- Information on how to shield your indoor living and work space from a smart meter, including what techniques and materials to use. Includes information about reflections, gaps and other pitfalls in shielding; 888-537-7363.
Safe Living Technologies -- Retailer of shielding fabrics to protect against sources of RF. Headed by engineer and building biologist Rob Metzinger; 519-240-8735.
Smart Meter Shield -- A full kit to cover your smart meter outside, including a shield for the inside of your wall. Protects you but still allows the utility to read the meter. Based in North San Diego County.
If you are sensitive to the harmonic transient voltage spikes, or "dirty electricity" caused by the switched mode power supply in some brands of smart meters (though not measured, so far, from smart meters in Southern California), here are suggested strategies to shield these high frequencies for those who are bothered by them and who cannot opt out with an analog meter.
Once you have shielded the AC plastic cords that you plug into outlets for lamps and other devices within a few feet of you, you can also move yourself into the middle of the room in day and evening time. This is because agitating frequencies from voltage spikes riding on the electricity in your plastic circuits only leak six to eight feet into the room, and that harmful influence drops as you move away from the wall.
Likewise, at night, shut off the breakers to your bedroom circuit for the same reason, along with any other circuits that run within six to eight feet of your bed. A building biologist can help you determine what circuits to shut off. This will also provide you with a good night's sleep by reducing harmful electric fields, discussed in Articles on EMFs Parts Three and Four.
Be sure to install battery-operated smoke detectors if shutting off the breakers in and around your bedroom at night shuts off the smoke detectors. Also, there are automatic and remote shut-off switches that can be installed at the breaker panel by an electrician to shut off these circuits at night without you having to go down to the basement or out to the garage to the breaker panel. See Articles on EMFs Parts Three and Four.
These strategies should reduce much of the electric field component of the transient voltage spikes, which again, are in the kilohertz range, and some of the magnetic field component of these same spikes, particularly those above 1 MHz. This may help those who are suffering from smart meter-induced voltage spikes, at least to a partial extent.
Shielding is also possible using Finemet and Cobaltex fabric from Less EMF for those who need to create a safe room, such as a bedroom. This is particularly helpful in apartment buildings where you have high frequency transient voltage frequencies coming from circuits in walls.
If you are part of or know of an organization that maintains a website covering this important issue, please pass the link along to Oram at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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