What are “Smart” Meters?

– An excerpt from An Electronic Silent Spring

A “smart” meter tracks the use of electricity, natural gas or water. While SmartMeter is a trademarked, industry name that refers to one brand of meter, “smart” meter (no upper case) is the generic term for all new digital meters. Most transmit signals in the microwave range. Some are not transmitting. Some transmitting meters are called “AMR” (automated meter reading) meters. Typically, the meter’s face will show a digital display of numbers (like a digital watch), not a dial with a clock-like face. Note: some meters with clock-like faces have a transmitting chip behind their face.

AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) meters are yet another kind of transmitting meter. AMIs provide utility companies with two-way communication. Besides sending your utility company information about your usage, AMIs allow the company to turn off your power remotely or reprogram the meter to communicate with your appliances and your home wireless system.

Around the U.S. and the world, utility companies use government subsidies to replace traditional, analog meters on homes and businesses, supposedly because the “smart” meters’ tracking abilities can encourage consumers to conserve energy. “Smart” meters allow utility companies to charge ratepayers by their time-of-use. Here, the aim is for households to use less energy during business hours, to smooth out the peaks and valleys of power consumption and increase the grid’s efficiency. (1)

Because every household typically receives three utilities (electricity, gas and water), and each utility requires a meter on each house, apartment, school, office, hospital and public building, “smart” meters might be the country’s (and the world’s) largest deployment of transmitting antennas.

“Smart” meters can use broadband over power lines (BPL), fiber optics, telephone lines or wireless radio or cellular technology to report detailed information about how much and when you use different “smart enabled” appliances and energy back to the utility company.

“Smart” meters emit pulsed signals or microbursts in the microwave range. Meters using BPL put radiofrequency radiation on the power lines. Others transmit in 900 MHz (for the carrier wave) and all use the 2.4 GHz band simultaneously.2 All creatures within range of these “smart” meters are exposed to involuntary microwave radiation.

Some transmitting meters emit signals once each month or once a day. Some emit signals every fifteen seconds.

1. Foster, Kenneth R., “A World Awash with Wireless Devices,” IEEE Microwave Magazine, March, 2013.
2. SmartMeters: Architecture, Health Effects, Measurement and Mitigation, a power point presentation by Tom Wilson, BSEE, 2011.