Monday, 24 January 2011

Smart Meters - Not For Me Thanks

In this morning's post RMcGeddon mentioned smart meters and provided a couple of Youtube links which set me on a mission to discover more about this piece of equipment which will be installed in every home in the land by 2020.

It's difficult to find any British videos so those here are from the US where the installation of smart meters is well underway.  In the above video the smart meter was installed three months ago.  The three shrubs on the wall are several years old and were healthy with a thick growth.  In three months damage is clearly visible and the home owner insists that is due to the microwave radiation signals.

Apart from the microwave radiation which penetrates through walls, there is concern here in the UK about privacy. Once a smart meter is introduced power usage is constantly communicated to your supplier who will be able to make a fairly good assessment of your movements and lifestyle.

Will it save you money?  Having considered the dangers of continual microwave technology drifting through my home; the lack of information about the use of the data suppliers glean from this equipment and the fact that I am already aware of how much power I use, I will refuse one.  In the US the installation of this equipment allows the supplier access to your home at any time. This will probably be the case here too.

A more sinister aspect is power companies could well reduce or cut off certain goods in your home.  Of course that wouldn't happen immediately but by having a smart meter you're giving control of your energy use to your supplier who can use it as they wish.  The ICO, which monitors personal data security has already met major suppliers to discuss the security implications of smart meters.  In my maturing years I have little trust in the ICO or any organisation to protect my privacy.  There's a great deal of money to be made from selling personal data.

If you're interested in knowing more you could start by watching this video.  Forewarned is forearmed.


Oldrightie said...

Great and valuable service, Subrosa! Thank you.

Joe Public said...

1. I'm unperturbed by that video alleging plant damage.

The currents surrounding Smart & UnSmart meters are not vastly different.

There are millions of UnSmart meters used for donkey's years around the UK, at least thousands of which are in gardens surrounded by shrubbery. I think at least one vigilant gardener would have noticed if a plant had died; and, hundreds & thousands of non-gardeners would have scattered multiple meters around to kill those pesky weeds.

2. The practical advantage (to power suppliers) of smart meters is that they can charge more for electricity used at peak times.

They've been used in Industry (>100kW) for many years. A user's electricity bill is (broadly) calculated by a commodity charge multiplied by a factor solely dependent upon that user's maximum 1/2hr peak consumption in the month. It's called Maximum Demand Charge. And it makes electricity used in winter VERY expensive.

Sooner or later, it'll come to a house near you.

[Strange how people are willing to pay more for a holiday in August / a train ticket at 8:00 am / a cinema ticket at 7:00 pm, yet resent paying a premium for a commodity. Just sayin'.]

manwiddicombe said...

I was forced to have a smart meter in my business about 3 years ago. The 'spying' aspect of it worried me but the accuracy of my bills, never ever getting an estimated demand, made it actually relatively painless to accommodate.

The one I had was fitted with a standard mobile phone sim card (or at least it looked standard) that dialled out, or was dialled in to, at regular intervals to get readings.

However would I like one in my home? No thanks ......

Dioclese said...

I have a friend who is into gadgets like this and for years has had a display on his wall telling him how much lecky he is using from minute to minute.

My supplier keeps trying to persuade me to have a smart meter. I even did a market research survey for them on-line with about 6 other people. None of us wanted one. Definitely none of us wanted to pay for one!

Personally the only time I give a toss about how much lecky I use is when the lazy buggers send me an estimated bill because they are too lazy to read the meter!

A smart meter won't change my habits.

Joe Public said...

Estimated bills aren't all bad, Dioclese.

If they underestimate, it helps your cash flow; if there's just been a price rise, I understand some people 'inadvertently' report 'increased' consumption, forward-buying their gas/leccy at the old price.

Woodsy42 said...

Is there a business opportunity here to make and sell lead shields that fit round the meter?
I'm told that they don't just broadcast occasionally (which wouldn't be such a radiation risk) but that distant meters feed data back via ones nearer the collection points. This means some meters may be transmitting a lot of the time passing data on.
Mine will get a lead jacket if I'm forced to accomodate such a power surveilance device.

subrosa said...

It's an interesting subject OR. None of the companies pushing these devices mention anything about privacy etc.

subrosa said...

I've been trying to do a comparison Joe with radioactivity from my present meter and from a Smart meter. It's nigh on impossible so I can't confirm your statement.

I took the video at face value and knowing just a wee bit about shrubs and how they shrivel and die, I really would doubt if this has been caused by human intervention, although the shrub does show an infestation of whitefly.

Somehow I think you're underestimating the ability of these new smart meters. It is perfectly possible to segregate various parts of a building with them for one thing. If suppliers want to have variable prices, why don't they install a system like the old Economy 7 (elect) which offered off-peak useage?

Do you honestly think smart meters will reduce costs to the average household?

Funnily enough, I do object to paying more for things you mention.

subrosa said...

I can perhaps understand them in business premises manwiddicombe, but they're not necessary in homes where the occupier is prepared to email or phone in regular meter readings. I've done that for the past 10 years or so, therefore I never have an estimated reading. Doesn't take more than 5 minutes.

subrosa said...

A smart meter won't change mine either Dioclese. If I'm cold I'll turn the heating on. If I want to use the cooker I will.

Having a box informing me that I'm being excessive won't make one bit of difference.

subrosa said...

I know folk who do that regularly Joe. Have never had the inclination myself.

subrosa said...

If you watched the longer video Woodsy that is what happens and the radioactivity in continual.

There's been little said about these by the new coalition although I understand they intend to roll them out as planned by Labour.

Joe Public said...

@ SR 21:48

I studiously avoided mentioning 'reduced' costs.

They've been developed for one reason, and one reason only, to increase fuel/energy suppliers' profits.

subrosa said...

Ah so no surprises there then Joe. It's the standard 'follow the money' plan.

RMcGeddon said...

Joe said..

" The currents surrounding Smart & UnSmart meters are not vastly different."

The currents are the same Joe.
Both meters measure the current that your house uses and operate at 240V 50hz.
Conventional meters are read by the supplier or you give a reading to them or you opt for an estimate.
Smart meters take the reading and transmit it in a microwave pulse every few seconds to your supplier at a frequency in the Gigahertz. This microwave pulse is thought to be harmful and is at a similar frequency to a mobile phone mast. You have a mini phone mast pulsing away in your home giving up to the minute info on what temp your cooker is at, if the tv is on etc.
The little minutia of your life basically that can be printed off and given to whoever pays for it.
It would prove useful in determining your lifestyle. Late riser ? Microwave cooker or full oven user ? Away from home a lot ? Working late that night ? etc ..

Joe Public said...

@ RMcG

Thanks for that. I wasn't definitely sure they were the same, so hedged my reply.

Certainly, governments' ability to track its citizens is becoming ever-more encroaching.

I understand that the next iteration of the "Airwave" police radio communications system incorporates a microchip to detect if Close Protection Officers are, well, getting too Close.

subrosa said...

Sorry Joe, I was thinking in microwaves and looking for a comparison with my current meter. Way off track. Too much reading about microwaves today.

English Pensioner said...

I had a letter from my electricity supplier this morning offering me some fancy meter that will enable me to monitor my usage to "plan, track and save energy" to reduce my bills.
But it doesn't explain how! We don't waste energy (we can't afford to do so) so I fail to see how I can plan my energy usage. We have a cooked meal every evening, Has Mrs EP got to watch the meter and say "I've used the planned amount of electricity, sorry, your veg are not properly cooked"? And as the cost of energy is the same through the 24 hours, there is no advantage to me of "planning" to do something at a different time.
So exactly how am I going to save money?
Afterthought - I've just realised why our ex-favourite pub for Sunday lunch now provides almost raw vegs - they're got one of these things and are planning their electricity consumption!

RMcGeddon said...

English Pensioner..

I got one of those meters. Good for novelty value but it soon wears off. It just shows you how many watts you are using and the reading goes up and down when you switch the kettle on and off - Woohoo. I think it's probably just a softening up process to get you to accept a smart meter in the future. Both rely on a transmitter clamped to your mains input cable and both have a reciever that reads the energy usage.
I suspect ( like the 'free' energy saving lightbulbs ) the electricity companies are just doing what they're told by Huhnes hoons and giving us this stuff to soften us up.

Leg-iron said...

Dioclese - how much electricity does that display on the wall use? ;)

SR - they can monitor what they like. I have enough timers and programmable gadgetry to make my house do exactly the same thing every day, whether I'm in it or not.

I'd be tempted to run that for a few months and then switch everything off for a day, just to see what happens.

subrosa said...

No I can't see any advantage either EP. Not for me anyway.

subrosa said...

RM, I've enough gadgets here to keep me busy all day if I want without something going up and down when I put a light on.

Of course it's a softening up process. The lectures will come later when we're told Sunday lunch is no longer- no ration left.

subrosa said...

You'll scare the Righteous to death doing that LI. I suspect that's your idea though. ;)

Joe Public said...

@ EP 00:12

Lots of households actually have 'Day' and 'Night' tariffs. And the Night Tariff is considerable less than the Day Tariff.

[Look at your electric meter - are there two readings; or, look at your 'leccy bill - does it show Day AND Night consumptions?]

If you do pay the two separate tariffs, some folk plan things link using dishwasher / washing machine / washer-dryer at night (generally after 23:00) to take advantage of the lower commodity cost. [Or to be not screwed quite so badly by the higher day rate.]

Joe Public said...

"..... some folk plan things link" ooops, 'should be 'like'

RMcGeddon said...

I think the day and night tariff thing was scrapped a while ago but I maybe wrong.

No Sunday lunch by order of the Ministry. Erk.

subrosa said...

Joe, when I tried to get a Day and Night tariff here when I changed the boiler a couple of years ago, my electricity supplier said it was only available if I was all electric. Tried the Hydro and another one too. Same result.

subrosa said...

RM, stranger things have happened in recent years in this country.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Microwaves? Why in hell does it need microwaves? Surely it's just a meter that:

(1) phones home every so often (or, for all I know, continuously) and

(2) enables the great and good to reduce or cut off your power remotely, when the windmills aren't generating enough (due to insufficient, or perhaps excessive, wind) to keep you and really important customers (politicians, celebrities, big party donors) all supplied at once.

Isn't that it?

Where do microwaves come into it?

Incidentally, I saw a cheering story the other day from somewhere in the thirld world where a similar system had been installed, also using mobile phone technology to spy on people for some stupid reason or other, and the local neds stole all the SIM cards and used them to make phone calls! xlnt!

There is no limit to human ingenuity and general ersitness, it seems.

Apogee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
subrosa said...


Apogee has left a new comment on your post "Smart Meters - Not For Me Thanks":

Hi SR, this has so many facets to it. First, the radiation (RF) should not be worse than a mobile phone. The important point is how long it is transmitting for. No one seems to be asking how much this continual calling home will cost on our bills and what network is being used.Some areas will need to relay from box to box for a long time before transmitting the data to the final destination. And what about data corruption,either in 'your' smart meter or any of the long line of meters the data has to travel through. How can you check your usage if you think you are being over charged? If when a smart meter is put in and the usage seems to increase, what redress to checking for accuracy do you have.What if the usage drops suddenly on installation, does one have a claim for previous possible overcharging?
Who guarantees the calibration of the new meter?
All this thing can tell is the instantaneous power consumption, not what is consuming it, unless the appliances are individually connected.
Final thought, is this part of a policy of introducing rationing of EVERYTHING we use,fuel , food , air, travel.Think on that.
Something else already severely rationed by our Government system of political partying is Truth, dont get a lot of it from any party ,do we?
Final thought, if one of the meters breaks in a chain and your data and your neighbors cant be transmitted, how do they decide how much to charge you? estimated bill? and if your meter breaks what then?

RMcGeddon said...


" First, the radiation (RF) should not be worse than a mobile phone"

Both use microwave frequencies not radio frequencies ( Ghz rather than Mhz). The signal is pulsed much more often than a mobile phone and can't be switched off.

" No one seems to be asking how much this continual calling home will cost on our bills and what network is being used"

It's a seperate supplier frequency. Not associated with our mobile frequency so won't affect our personal phone bills

" How can you check your usage if you think you are being over charged"

Compare with what the meter says to what the transmitted reading ( ie bill) says.

" All this thing can tell is the instantaneous power consumption, not what is consuming it, unless the appliances are individually connected."

It operates a bit more technically than that. Every appliance has a noise 'signature' which is sent with the microwave signal. This means the supplier knows which item is being switched on/off and the level of current used ( more for a cooker compared to a hair dryer etc)

subrosa said...

Rm in your answer to Apogee your last paragraph shows just how invasive this device is and it could become ever more so.

RMcGeddon said...

SR. Yes it's very clever.
I can see loads of uses for the new system in the future.

"Lets load up your power usage picture sonny and find out what you were really doing on the night in question...."


" I'm sorry you're not the kind of people that would be suitable for fostering. Your 'power pic' has failed on various parameters with a negative score for both home cooking and too many late nights"


Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

In principal they aren't a bad thing and there are quite a lot of different types - it's not clear to me if a single type will dominate across the UK. What is high on their agenda is doing away with what the yanks call "truck rolls" - i.e. a man in a van paying a visit. I doubt the radio waves will cause any damage, apart from annoying some hearing aid wearers and purchasers of cheap audio systems. Concerned folk can avail themselves of suitable attire...

One loud word of warning though, these things are going to plunge us deeper into tariff hell.

Ah, well, if you use 2 units to make tea before 07:45 on a weekday they be half the price of an 08:01 cuppa and so on utterly ad nauseam - think of all the special offers and green club card points you can collect and utterly exasperating "energy saving" nannying government advertising that will ensue - can't wait eh? I know.... BOGOF and "French Nuclear Electron Week"

I note that the utilities are nowhere near as keen for independent generators to step in and sell them leccy "when they need it" - in fact they make it as difficult as possible it would seem (100kW-500kW). Combined heat and power systems are dogged by willful obstructiveness from the authorities and the utilities. CHP being more efficient and hence less tax producing and a competitor to the electricity retailers. It's a retail stitch up.

I doubt utility customer dis-service is going to change much, like stabbing pensioners for outrageous variable rate direct debits - have you ever seen a mobile phone that gives you a complete list and cost of all the calls you've made calculated from your tariff?

A whole new sandpit for the imaginative corporate bookeeping fraternity to play in.

I doubt that half price washing machine run in the wee hours will become a reality. Mind you, a friend of mine in working in Switzerland found he was prohibited by bye-law from even using his washing machine after 9pm (disturbs neighbors in the block of flats)- it was hard wired into a timer circuit!

The potential for social engineering is there... demand management hmmm... remote turn off is a key feature of these units.Personally I'd like to see the usage data protected and the user to have control of who can see it beyond the leccy vendor.

The potential already seems to have Google sales salivating?

subrosa said...

That's it RM. When I was researching before writing the post there were comments from electronic engineers saying exactly that. I didn't include links because it was too worrying and thought I'd let those interested do their own research.

subrosa said...

Thanks so much for all that information Gordon. Of course utilities have a monopoly here and the government are very happy with that.

Do you notice none of these adverts mention anything about personal safety or privacy?

I'll hold out as long as possible.

RMcGeddon said...

Gordon said..

" I doubt the radio waves will cause any damage, apart from annoying some hearing aid wearers and purchasers of cheap audio systems"

It's not a radio wave Gordon. It's a microwave which is outwith the spectrum to affect radios or audio devices.
And the low tariff system seems to have been shelved.

SR. Yes it will be worth keeping abreast of developments with the smart meters.

subrosa said...

I've got them on my 'beady eye' list RM.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Tschh.. Rosie, monopoly? surely a free market? /sarc off

It does seriously look to me as if the battalions of marketeer parasites are salivating at the possibilities in all this.

I think that the principal that the data between you the customer and the supplier is available to both -but third parties are expressly forbidden on pain of swingeing fines (unless explicitly and unequivocally agreed to) is one that should be promoted. Of course folk are a bit inured to loyalty cards (Clubcard, Nectar etc.)but most aren't aware at all how that data is used...

In some ways Google's involvement is interesting - as given that the scheming execs at the leccy utilities will try to obfuscate your data and indulge in a little speculative billing, the idea that your data goes to a nominated (by you) third party (free market innit?) would throw a fair sized stick in the utility co's wheels. I can imagine a brokerage system that swaps supplies to give you the lowest bill, like least cost routing now does for telephones..... That would "get up their noses" big time :-) Google could do it in the blink of a Mountain View eye ....

@RMcGeddon , sorry to disappoint, but microwaves are radio waves and can cause just the same interference - I've been meddling with them for 35+ years at work and play. The scaremongers like BBC Panaorama's WiFi nonsense episode have a lot to apologise for.

The actual contents of radio (i.e. mobile phone) conversations are surely far greater health risks... :-)

subrosa said...

There's certainly a great amount of money to be made by these devices Gordon.

As for your point about 'expressly forbidden on pain of swingeing fines' it hasn't stopped many selling on information in the past.

Thanks for the explanation about Google's interest. I hadn't viewed it from that angle.

Last year I stopped using loyalty cards and cancelled them. My tiny protest towards data gathering. :)

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