As the popularity of smart meters increases, so does the controversy around them. If you dig into the depths of the Internet, you will find some unexpected myths about smart meters: from the risk of causing a fire to dirty electricity creation. From big brother privacy violations to extremely high electricity bills, and even some truly crazy rumors around health issues, including cancer. Even though smart meters are rigorously tested and far exceed every EU safety standards, there are people out there who believe that they pose a danger. Let’s sort the facts from the fiction.
Smart electric meters (also called energy sensors) are electronic devices which track the use of electricity in households. They automatically capture information about consumption and send it wirelessly to the power provider. They gradually replace outdated, analog meters, providing real-time, accurate measurements of electricity use while eliminating the need for estimated monthly bills or home visits from meter readers.
Smart meters are considered a critical upgrade of the energy system, being a part of the effort to create smart grids and provide low-carbon, efficient and reliable solutions. As a result, governments across Europe set targets for smart meters rollouts. In Poland, they are supposed to be installed at 80% of households by 2026, with the current adoption rate at less than 9 percent (Wysokie Napięcie). The Ministry of Energy also predicts that the introduction of the new meters will speed up the process of switching power suppliers and will encourage citizens to be more interested in this field.
Despite their crucial role in bringing the industry into the 21st century, the rollouts have been plagued with controversy.
Even though smart meters have a very small power output and they transmit radio waves infrequently, there are people who believe that they are dangerous for our health, causing headaches, dizziness, balance problems, and even cancer.
It’s true that smart meters use a radio frequency (RF) waves to send information about energy consumption. However, the level of radiation constitutes just a tiny fraction of the level of radio waves – which in fact, are one million times lower than levels decreed safe by international standards – and is much lower levels than mobiles, microwaves and WiFi routers. In conclusion, it’s safe to say that smart meters do not produce any negative health impacts.
The second biggest concern is privacy violation. As smart meters can provide real-time feedback on energy use, they can theoretically be used for inhabitants behavior analysis. Detailed energy use habits could indicate how many people live in the household, when do they leave or stay at home, what kind of devices they use and how often.
Yes, it’s true that energy sensors collect data. Still, the control over it is on the consumer’s side. The user gets to decide how often the smart meter sends data to the energy supplier, with monthly basis set as the minimum, and whether the data can be used for marketing purposes or shared with third parties.
Every smart meter has to undergo rigorous safety testing, far from leaving homes at risk of fire, as some people seem to believe.
They are not only safe for the users but also make it easier for the installer to spot the safety issues within the electrical installation, which otherwise would be hard to diagnose. In 2017, British smart meter installers flagged up more than 270,000 pre-existing safety issues, some potentially life-threatening, such as dangerous wiring or faulty boilers (Telegraph).
The smart meter system is very secure. Unlike other home devices, most smart meters do not use the Internet to transfer meter readings. Data is transmitted by an independent, secure network, made especially for the smart meter system. If they do use the Internet to pass over data, the process features advanced asymmetric crypto-solutions. This way customer data is accessible only for the utility company or the house owner. Either way, the threat posed by hackers is eliminated.
Additionally, the data stored on the smart meter only concerns gas and electricity usage and the tariff information. There is no personal information stored in the system.
Smart meters are installed by energy suppliers and the cost of the rollout is covered in the energy bill – the same way that installation, monitoring, and maintenance of traditional meters is. While there is an initial investment in the infrastructure upgrade, a cost-benefit analysis suggests that energy sensors will deliver savings far outweighing the cost incurred at the beginning.
The analog meter network is old and expensive to run. Moving to smart meters means greater efficiency, in the long run, leading to the creation of new tariffs and personalized plans individually tailored to customers’ energy consumption.
Having a smart meter helps customers to understand their electricity usage and based on that, make better decisions on energy and money savings. So instead of having to consult their gas or electricity meters, consumers can view a digital reading on the handheld display connected to the smart meter, which shows their energy use in near-real time. Some suppliers also allow accessing this information online or via a mobile app.
Smart meters are a recipe for a win-win situation for a supplier and a user. The access to valuable consumer data can be used by the supply side to create better products and services, tailored specifically to users’ needs and enable smart pricing implementation. On the other hand, users can get access to personalized recommendations, which will help them to switch to more energy efficient appliances and save even more.
It’s worth to add that according to the research published by Smart Energy GB in March 2018, there’s a high level of satisfaction among people who have a smart meter and the solution gives them a better idea of what they are spending (Telegraph).
Considering the big picture, switching to smart meters, brings us a bit closer to the future. With a better understanding of usage patterns, power suppliers will be able to develop better, more advanced, cost-savvy solutions, becoming more consumer-centered than ever before. It’s expected that technology will open up new opportunities for smarter tariffs, more sustainable living, and smarter homes.