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Smart Meter Health & Safety

Because smart meters use wireless radio transmitters to send and receive data, some customers have asked about possible negative health effects from the associated radio frequency (RF) emissions. The most comprehensive scientific study to date which investigates this topic was completed by the California Council on Science and Technology in 2011, the results of which are published in their report entitled “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters.”

The two primary conclusions of the report are as follows:
  1. The FCC standard provides a currently accepted factor of safety against known thermally induced health impacts of smart meters and other electronic devices in the same range of RF emissions. Exposure levels from smart meters are well below the thresholds for such effects.

  2. There is no evidence that additional standards are needed to protect the public from smart meters.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the United States' governing body for the electromagnetic spectrum and it sets strict limits on the design specifications for radio transmitters of all types, including the smart meters and other telecommunications equipment used in Anaheim.

So how does a person’s exposure to RF energy from a smart meter compare to that from other common household devices, such as cell phones and microwave ovens? The answer is, it’s quite a bit less. Here’s why:
  1. Smart meters are low powered, generally 1 watt or less. By comparison, a microwave oven draws anywhere from 300 to well over 1000 watts of power.

  2. A smart meter only sends and receives data for a few seconds each day. The rest of the time it is effectively off, emitting no RF energy.

  3. The strength of a radio wave decreases very rapidly with distance (the inverse square law) and people don’t generally spend a great deal of time very near to their electric or water meters. That’s quite different from a cell phone which is held up to a person’s ear for minutes or hours at a time.

It’s also important to know that there are very large margins of safety built into the certification requirements for wireless radio transmitters, such as smart meters. Even in a worst case scenario where a smart meter malfunctioned and got stuck in a “transmit continuously” mode, someone standing a foot away from the meter would be experiencing RF exposure levels 40% below the FCC’s Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) limit. And the MPE limit itself is 50 times lower than the lowest demonstrated hazard level.

For those interested in knowing more about the technical specifications of a smart meter, here are the models that are currently in use in Anaheim:

Any discussion of the health implications of smart meters would be incomplete without acknowledging the environmental benefits of the smart grid as a whole. By using energy more efficiently, we reduce our emissions of green house gasses and other pollutants. Empowering customers with near-time information about their energy usage is one of the primary requirements for widespread adoption of emerging green technologies, such as plug-in electric vehicles. And if the smart grid enables us to shift even a small percentage of our peak energy demand to off-peak hours, there’s the very real potential of avoiding the need to construct additional power plants in the future. When taken together, these factors collectively contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment for all of us.