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This report is limited to a very simple overview of how smart meters work, and the other parts of the communication system that are required for them to transmit information on energy usage within a home or other building. The reader can find more detailed information on smart meter and smart grid technology from numerous sources available on the Internet.

Often called ‘advanced metering infrastructure or AMI’, smart meters are a part of an overall system that includes a) a mesh network or series of wireless antennas at the neighborhood level to collect and transmit wireless information from all the smart meters in that area back to a utility.

The mesh network (sometimes called a distributed antenna system) requires wireless antennas to be located throughout neighborhoods in close proximity to where smart meters will be placed. Often, a municipality will receive a hundred or more individual applications for new cellular antenna service, which is specifically to serve smart meter technology needs. The communication network needed to serve smart meters is typically separate from existing cellular and data transmission antennas (cell tower antennas). The mesh network (or DAS) antennas are often utility-pole mounted. This part of the system can spread hundreds of new wireless antennas throughout neighborhoods.

Smart meters are a new type electrical meter that will measure your energy usage, like the old ones do now. But, it will send the information back to the utility by wireless signal (radiofrequency/microwave radiation signal) instead of having a utility meter reader come to the property and manually do the monthly electric service reading. So, smart meters are replacements for the older ‘spinning dial’ or analog electric meters. Smart meters are not optional, and utilities are installing them even where occupants do not want them.

In order for smart meters to monitor and control energy usage via this wireless communication system, the consumer must be willing to install power transmitters inside the home. This is the third part of the system and involves placing power transmitters (radiofrequency/microwave radiation emitting devices) within the home on each appliance. A power transmitter is required to measure the energy use of individual appliances (e.g., washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, etc) and it will send information via wireless radiofrequency signal back to the smart meter. Each power transmitter handles a separate appliance. A typical kitchen and laundry may have a dozen power transmitters in total. If power transmitters are not installed by the homeowner, or otherwise mandated on consumers via federal legislation requiring all new appliances to have power transmitters built into them, then there may be little or no energy reporting nor energy savings.

Smart meters could also be installed that would operate by wired, rather than wireless means. Shielded cable, such as is available for cable modem (wired internet connection) could connect smart meters to utilities. However, it is not easy to see the solution to transmit signals from power transmitters (energy use for each appliance) back to the utility.

Collector meters are a special type of smart meter that can serve to collect the radiofrequency/microwave radiation signals from many surrounding buildings and send them back to the utility. Collector meters are intended to collect and re-transmit radiofrequency information for somewhere between 500-5000 homes or buildings. They have three operating antennas compared to two antennas in regular smart meters. Their radiofrequency microwave emissions are higher and they send wireless signal much more frequently. Collector meters can be place on a home or other building like smart meters, and there is presently no way to know which a homeowner or property owner might receive.


The California Public Utilities Commission has authorized California’s investor-owned utilities (including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison Company and San Diego Gas & Electric) to install more than 10 million new wireless* smart meters in California, replacing existing electric meters as part of the federal SmartGrid program.

The goal is to provide a new residential energy management tool. It is intended to reduce energy consumption by providing computerized information to customers about what their energy usage is and how they might reduce it by running appliances during ‘off-time’ or ‘lower load’ conditions. Presumably this will save utilities from having to build new facilities for peak load demand. Utilities will install a new smart meter on every building to which electrical service is provided now. In Southern California, that is about 5 million smart meters in three years for a cost of around $1.6 billion dollars. In northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric is slated to install millions of meters at a cost of more than $2.2 billion dollars.

If consumers decide to join the program (so that appliances can report energy usage to the utility), they can be informed about using energy during off-use or low-use periods, but only if consumers also agree to install additional wireless power transmitters on appliances inside the home. Each power transmitter is an additional source of pulsed RF that produces high exposures at close range in occupied space within the home.

Proponents of smart meters say that when these meters are teamed up with an in-home display that shows current energy usage, as well as a communicating thermostat and software that harvest and analyze that information, consumers can see how much consumption drives cost — and will consume less as a result. Utilities are spending billions of dollars outfitting homes and businesses with the devices, which wirelessly send information about electricity use to utility billing departments and could help consumers control energy use.”
Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2009.

The smart meter program is also a tool for load-shedding during heavy electrical use periods by turning utility meters off remotely, and for reducing the need for utility employees to read meter data in the field.

Purpose of this Report

This Report has been prepared to document radiofrequency radiation (RF) levels associated with wireless smart meters in various scenarios depicting common ways in which they are installed and operated.

The Report includes computer modeling of the range of possible smart meter RF levels that are occurring in the typical installation and operation of a single smart meter, and also multiple meters in California. It includes analysis of both two-antenna smart meters (the typical installation) and of three-antenna meters (the collector meters that relay RF signals from another 500 to 5000 homes in the area).

RF levels from the various scenarios depicting normal installation and operation, and possible FCC violations have been determined based on both time-averaged and peak power limits (Tables 1 – 14).

Potential violations of current FCC public safety standards for smart meters and/or collector meters in the manner installed and operated in California are illustrated in this Report, based on computer modeling (Tables 10 – 17).

Tables which present data, possible conditions of violation of the FCC public safety limits, and comparisons to health studies reporting adverse health impacts are summarized (Tables 18 – 33).

The next section describes methodology in detail, but generally this Report provides computer modeling results for RF power density levels for these scenarios, analysis of whether and under what conditions FCC public safety limit violations may occur, and comparison of RF levels produced under these scenarios to studies reporting adverse health impacts with chronic exposure to low-intensity radiofrequency radiation at or below levels produced by smart meters and collector meters in the manner installed and operated in California.

  1. Single ‘typical’ meter – tables showing RF power density at increasing distances in 0.25’ (3”) intervals outward for single meter (two-antenna meter). Effects of variable duty cycles (from 1% to 90%) and various reflection factors (60%, 100%, 1000% and 2000%) have been calculated.
  2. Multiple ‘typicalmeters – tables showing RF power density at increasing distances as above.
  3. Collector meter – tables showing RF power density related to a specialized collector meter which has three internal antennas (one for every 500 or 5000 homes) as above.
  4. Collector meter – a single collector meter installed with multiple ‘typical’ two-antenna meters as above.
  5. Tables are given to illustrate the distance to possible FCC violations for time-weighted average and peak power limits (in inches).
  6. Tables are given to document RF power density levels at various key distances (11” to a crib in a bedroom; 28” to a kitchen work area; and 6” for a person attempting to read the digital readout of a smart meter, or inadvertently working around a meter.
  7. Tables are given to compare RF power density levels with studies reporting adverse health symptoms and effects (and those levels of RF associated with such health effects).
  8. Tables are given to compare smart meter and collector meter RF to BioInitiative Report recommended limit (in feet).

Framing Questions

In view of the rapid deployment of smart meters around the country, and the relative lack of public information on their radiofrequency (RF) emission profiles and public exposures, there is a crucial need to provide independent technical information.

There is very little solid information on which decision-makers and the public can make informed decisions about whether they are an acceptable new RF exposure, in combination with pre-existing RF exposures.

On-going Assessment of Radiofrequency Radiation Health Risks

The US NIEHS National Toxicology Program nominated radiofrequency radiation for study as a carcinogen in 1999. Existing safety limits for pulsed RF were termed “not protective of public health” by the Radiofrequency Interagency Working Group (a federal interagency working group including the FDA, FCC, OSHA, the EPA and others). Recently, the NTP issued a statement indicating it will complete its review by 2014 (National Toxicology Program, 2009). The NTP radiofrequency radiation study results have been delayed for more than a decade since 1999 and very little laboratory or epidemiological work has been completed. Thus, he explosion of wireless technologies is producing radiofrequency radiation exposures over massive populations before questions are answered by federal studies about the carcinogenicity or toxicity of low-intensity RF such as are produced by smart meters and other SmartGrid applications of wireless. The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have not completed their studies of RF (the IARC WHO RF Health Monograph is not expected until at least 2011). In the United States, the National Toxicology Program listed RF as a potential carcinogen for study, and has not released any study results or findings a decade later. There are no current, relevant public safety standards for pulsed RF involving chronic exposure of the public, nor of sensitive populations, nor of people with metal and medical implants that can be affected both by localized heating and by electromagnetic interference (EMI) for medical wireless implanted devices.

Considering that millions of smart meters are slated to be installed on virtually every electrified building in America, the scope of the question is large and highly personal. Every family home in the country, and every school classroom – every building with an electric meter – is to have a new wireless meter – and thus subject to unpredictable levels of RF every day.

  1. Have smart meters been tested and shown to comply with FCC public safety limits (limits for uncontrolled public access)?
  2. Are these FCC public safety limits sufficiently protective of public health and safety? This question is posed in light of the last thirty years of international scientific investigation and public health assessments documenting the existence of bioeffects and adverse health effects at RF levels far below current FCC standards. The FCC’s standards have not been updated since 1992, and did not anticipate nor protect against chronic exposures (as opposed to acute exposures) from low-intensity or non-thermal RF exposures, particularly pulsed RF exposures.
  3. What demonstration is there that wireless smart meters will comply with existing FCC limits, as opposed to under strictly controlled conditions within government testing laboratories?
  4. Has the FCC been able to certify that compliance is achievable under real-life use conditions including, but not limited to:
    • In the case where there are both gas and electric meters on the home located closely together.
    • In the case where there is a “bank” of electric and gas meters, on a multi-family residential building such as on a condominium or apartment building wall. There are instances of up to 20 or more meters located in close proximity to
    • occupied living space in the home,in the classroom or other occupied public space.
    • In the case where there is a collector meter on a home that serves the home plus another 500 to 5000 other residential units in the area, vastly increasing the frequency of RF bursts.
    • In the case where there is one smart meter on the home but it acts as a relay for other local neighborhood meters. What about ‘piggybacking’ of other neighbors’ meters through yours? How can piggybacking be reasonably estimated and added onto the above estimates?
    • What about the RF emissions from the power transmitters? Power transmitters installed on appliances (perhaps 10-15 of them per home) and each one is a radiofrequency radiation transmitter.
    • How can the FCC certify a system that has an unknown number of such transmitters per home, with no information on where they are placed?
    • Where people with medical/metal implants are present? (Americans with Disabilities Act protects rights)
  5. What assessment has been done to determine what pre-existing conditions of RF exposure are already present. On what basis can compliance for the family inside the residence be assured, when there is no verification of what other RF sources exist on private property? How is the problem of cumulative RF exposure properly assessed (wireless routers, wireless laptops, cell phones, PDAs, DECT or other active-base cordless phone systems, home security systems, baby monitors, contribution of AM, FM, television, nearby cell towers, etc).
  6. What is the cumulative RF emissions worst-case profile? Is this estimate in compliance?
  7. What study has been done for people with metal implants* who require protection under Americans with Disabilities Act? What is known about how metal implants can intensity RF, heat tissue and result in adverse effects below RF levels allowed for the general public. What is known about electromagnetic interference (EMI) from spurious RF sources in the environment (RFID scanners, cell towers, security gates, wireless security systems, wireless communication devices and routers, wireless smart meters, etc)
*Note: There are more than 20 million people in the US who need special protection against such exposures that may endanger them. High peak power bursts of RF may disable electronics in some critical care and medical implants. We already have reports of wireless devices disabling deep brain stimulators in Parkinson’s patients and there is published literature on malfunctions with critical care equipment.