One day in the not too distant future, we will all be able to control our Wifi enabled electrical appliances remotely via our smartphones. Imagine driving home from a night out and being able to turn the heating on before you return. Or, if you’re like me, not having to deal with the nagging doubt that you may have left the electric stove top on.
This will all be made possible by our smart meters, standing by to deliver us to a future of convenience! Sounds good? Hmmm, maybe not so good…
This is my Smart Meter Story.
The mandatory smart meter rollout began in Victoria in 2009. Do you remember the day a smart meter was installed at your house? I wouldn’t even have a clue where I was living at the time! These meters just weren’t on my radar – until as an expectant Mum, I moved in with six of them (actually there’s a mystery extra one there, that makes seven!).
When my son turned one and started walking and exploring, the best place for his new cubby was 1.5m from the meter cupboard. At this point, I had little red flags waving in the back of my mind. I knew I needed to look into whether this close proximity to the meter cupboard was safe or not.
To begin my research, I downloaded the Smart Meter Fact Sheet from the Government Agency ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) which states;
The combination of the relatively low power of the smart meter transmitters, their location on the outside of buildings and the very short time spent transmitting means that the overall RF EME exposure from smart meters is very low and well below the limits of the ARPANSA RF Standard, even when a number of devices are communicating simultaneously.
This didn’t convince me of the safety of smart meters, but it did give me some peace of mind as I imagined RF microwave radiation would only be a problem for short periods of transmission. My power provider emailed me the transmission times at my request which are shown at 8.05am, 12.05pm, 4.05pm, 8.05pm (and maybe some ad-hoc extras around these). That’s not so bad, right? I can manage outdoor play around these times.
I then rang EMR Australia to ask about hiring a meter so I could double check the information I have so far accurately reflects what is happening in my courtyard. From this conversation, I learn that I have three points for consideration;
- The microwave radiation from the meters pulsing out into my courtyard space (especially the cubby).
- The microwave radiation pulsing back into my bathroom which is directly on the other side of the wall,
- Other areas inside my home sharing a wall with the meters.
I hired The Acousticom 2. If you haven’t been introduced to this meter before, please check out my previous post where I explain the scale of measurement and the reasoning behind my target limit range of 0.05 – 0.1 V/m (volts per metre)
I gathered data at different times of day over a week to see if there were any significant breaks in transmissions. I found the readings to be consistently jumpy and peaking out the meter regardless of the time. There is was no difference between say, 4pm and the transmission time of 4.05pm. This video shows three affected areas outside scheduled transmission times. Press play on the video to watch.
My primary area of concern was the cubby which shows the reading dancing around and peaking at 1.0 V/m. Remember my target range is 0.05 – 0.1 V/m., this reading is 10 times my desired limit. It was clear I needed a plan.
My Action Plan
- Move the cubby away from the meter cupboard.
- Start working on minimising RF levels in the areas my son spends time.
As the bathroom wall is tiled, it’s impossible for me to shield from radiation coming in this direction because I can’t paint or fix anything onto the tiles. In the case of my bathroom (my shower to be exact), there is nothing I can do other than to be thankful that I’m not sleeping in this space!
How about shielding in my courtyard? Radiofrequency behaves like light and bounces off reflective surfaces, so I have to be careful with what I do here because I could make other areas inside my home worse. Also, as I’m renting, I prefer that my solution is temporary and easily removable.
I experimented with a few different materials to shield from the meters. The best results came from a silver wrap insulation which I wrapped around a playpen frame.
This video shows the comparative readings with and without the shielding in the courtyard. Press play to watch.
This plan has reduced the amount of RF microwave radiation at the cubby and around the courtyard by 70%. I’m quite happy with the reading at the cubby as it’s now in my target range of 0.1 – 0.5 V/m. My makeshift solution works!
A note of caution – Please don’t play around with trying to deflect RF microwaves at home without a meter to check what is happening. You could make matters worse in another part of your home. When this shielding is in place, the RF levels increase in my shower! If you are looking into RF shielding, please consult a professional.
That’s great I’ve improved my levels of exposure! Now I have some questions….
1. Why do the smart meter readings dance around so much?
These smart meters use “Mesh” technology (in Victoria there is also WiMax and 3G). They have transmitting antennas which bounce around the ISD (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) frequency band 915MHz – 928MHz. They emit pulses of radio frequency microwaves as they transmit information and can jump around any frequency within this band. They aren’t necessarily communicating directly with the power company when they receive and transmit data, they are “chatting” to other Smart Meters in the area who are passing the information along the “Mesh” radio network to a point where the data can be sent to a phone tower easily. This may explain why my meters are incessant chatterboxes!.
2. Why should I care? What are the possible negative health effects?
Scientists are concerned that pulsing microwave RF radiation keeps our nervous systems is fight or flight and can cause excessive oxidative stress and cell damage. This video from documentary film “Take Back You Power” shows the behaviour of red blood cells exposed to Smart Meter RF.
I know “scientist say “is such a sweeping statement, so I’m going to include a link to a short talk by Dr Martin Pall HERE. In this talk he explains the molecular mechanism of cell damage from microwave RF radiation, beginning with increases in intracellular calcium which eventually result in the creation of free radicals which attack healthy cells. If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend you take a look.
3. What is the Australian Standard for RF microwave radiation?
This is not something you can just Google to find the answer. The Smart Meter Fact Sheet from ARPANSA and even the Victorian Government Smart Meter Quantifying Report constantly refer to levels being well under Australian Standards, without ever stating what the standards actually are. This may be because the answer is more complex than the question, and based on the charts that can be found digging through reference reports, maths is involved!
The clearest reference I have found so far for Australia is in the Wireless Safety Kit booklet provided by EMR Australia with my meter. It shows the guidelines at;
- Max exposure for 900 MegaHertz: 41.1 V/m (My Smart Meters are 915 – 928MHz)
- Max exposure for 2400 MegaHertz: 61 V/m (Our routers, smartphones etc)
Remember my target of 0.05 – 0.1 V/m? I feel like a champion so far!
This clip from “Take Back Your Power” compares exposure limits worldwide to smart meters and levels at which health is affected. *Keep in mind these measurements are in microwatts per centimetre squared (not volts per metre).
4. Why are our maximum RF Standards so high?
Our standards protect us from the thermal effects of RF radiation, not the biological effects. No doubt we are being protected from heating our tissue, but scientists are concerned about biological outcomes manifesting over prolonged exposure. The safety standards set by the FCC in the United States still stand since they were updated in 1996. This seems terribly outdated, and I have noted Dr Martin Pall’s comments that the mechanism for molecular damage wasn’t known by scientists back then…. but it’s known now.
5. The Acousticom 2’s highest reading is 6.0 V/m. Are my smart meters emitting levels much higher than that?
For this question, it was useful for me to reference a Victorian Government Report, Quantifying Smart Meter RF EME levels in Victorian homes to get an idea of what the actual top spike reading might be.
The table below from this report is the highest readings from 55 properties across Victoria. From this I can guess that my peak might be up to 22 V/m (highlighted in red).
It’s interesting to note that the highest single meter instantaneous reading is 29 v/m (highlighted in blue). My group meter readings in this post may be relevant for you, even if you only have one meter.
Know where your smart meter is! My circumstance might be a little unusual, not many people I know have a bank of smart meters on their wall at home. It seems many single-story homes have the meter box on the outside of the front room which can often be a bedroom or study. The key here is to minimise the levels of RF in places we spend a lot of time, especially where we sleep. Our sleep space needs to be as free of microwave radiation as possible to allow our cells to rest and repair. Imagine sleeping in the pulsing radiation I have in my shower! If you have a meter box on the other side of your bed here are some steps to take;
- Move your bed to another wall
- Hire or purchase a meter to assess the situation
- Speak to an expert about shielding solutions.
As fate would have it, not long after my smart meter investigation, I was told the owner of my property is returning and I need to move! To aid my househunting, I purchased an Acousticom 2 to check ambient RF readings at house inspections. I was especially keen to check on RF levels from mobile phone towers which are near impossible to escape in my area!
I’m taking a short break from blogging for the move and when I return in a few weeks, I’ll continue on this investigative journey looking into phone towers, smartphones and tablets!
Until Next Time…
- Take Back Your Power (full movie)
- If you like a good TedX Talk, Wireless wake-up call
- Victorian Government Smart Meter Quantifying Report