Smart Meter Myths: Busted

Following the original rollout starting in 2011, the British Government were able to estimate a total of 665.1million smart meters in the world in 2017, with hopes to rise to over 1.2 Billion by 2024.

You may be expected to install a smart meter or pay higher rates with a number of suppliers, such as British Gas, E.ON, EDF Energy, NPower, and more. This is in order to encourage an energy cycle that is healthier for our environment than ever before, as a part of the agreements laid out in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

But unfortunately, the hype around smart meters slowly faded after a 2017 TV show suggested that badly installed smart meters were the case of a number of house fires. From suggesting that a metal cover could stop radiation from leaking into your home to one family in Oxford claiming that their meters changed the TV channel, and even leading to the Stop Smart Meters campaign being built by those harbouring concerns.

In this piece, we look to debunk the myths that come with smart meters and show you that there is nothing to be afraid of in introducing this wonderful piece of technology into your home.

Does my electricity meter emit radio waves?

Yes; all smart meters today use short bursts of radio waves to in order for readings to be taken remotely from your gas and electricity meters. While some fear that this radiation may be a health risk, the likes of PHE (Public Health England) say that they are one of the safest pieces of technology in your home today. There types of radio waves have been used for decades so you can listen to the radio, watch TV broadcasts, and even get online through your mobile phone or home internet. The output from your smart meter is very small, and most of the time, there will be no transmission to be found. What a smart meter has the capacity to emit falls far below the guidelines created by international authorities to keep you safe, and this has been tested in labs throughout the process of researching the smart meters as a whole.

Are smart meters intruding on my privacy and sharing my information?

While some people’s fears have left them without lights or air conditioning in the USA, we can confirm that smart meters do not gather information on a constant basis, and instead only collect data at intervals of around every 15-20 minutes to once a day, depending on the particular technology used by the manufacturer. They do not store where in the house energy is used and when, but just the total amount used each time they collect data.

Can smart meters give me cancer or other health issues?

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF radiation that is emitted in smart meters as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” which, unfortunately, has been a strong talking point that has very much been taken out of context over a number of months. In truth, IARC is simply linking this radiation to that found in our mobile phones,  which suggests that our smart meter is safer, if anything, than the likes of the iPhone we carry with us each day.

Still, following the false advertisements following our TV show mentioned above that encouraged viewers to believe that smart meters would cause fires, there have been a number of reports across the USA that suggested that they experienced headaches, insomnia and more after instillation. When researching further into this, The American Cancer Society website shared that;

It would be nearly impossible to conduct a study to prove or disprove a link between living in a house with smart meters and cancer because people have so many sources of exposure to RF and the level of exposure from this source is so small. Because, the amount of RF radiation you could be exposed to from a smart meter is much less than what you could be exposed to from a cell phone, it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer. The World Health Organization has promised to conduct a formal assessment of the risks from RF exposure but this report is not yet available.

Is my analogue meter safer than a smart meter?

Just like those who encourage you to switch, we are certain that your smart meter is just as safe as your analogue meter ever was, and instead actually encourages a healthier environment. Alongside this, engineers in 2017 and 2018 reported finding more than 635,000 unsafe analogue meters in homes, suggesting that introducing a smart meter may in fact make your property, and your appliances even safer, according to Dyball.  

SmartEnergyGB even shared this video about some of the myths around your smart meters, due to the overwhelming concerns that were brought to them in emails by customers who did not have the full information.

Those installing smart meters are making crucial mistakes.

All staff who will be sent to install your meters have been assessed and given comprehensive training to confirm that they are competent before being given the opportunity to work in peoples homes. There is also a system of supervision and audit to check their work on an ongoing basis, a member of Electrical Safety First shared with The Telegraph in this article.

But I can’t switch energy suppliers if I have a smart meter.

While the first generation of smart meters (SMETS1) did find problems when it comes to people switching suppliers, this is no longer the case; The first generation of smart meter would often lose all functionality after switching due to being installed by the original supplier, but the SMETS2 introduced software updates and patches that have  been tested to ensure that customers will still have functionality when switching, or receive an upgrade for free where required.

But I’m a renter, so I can’t get a smart meter.

Although some renters reported holding off on asking their landlord for a smart meter instillation due to concerns that this would be declined, if the renter is paying their own energy bills, it is within their rights to request this piece of equipment. An energy supplier should inform renters that they must ask their landlord before getting a smart meter installed due to the varied rules outlined in any tenancy agreement. If a landlord is paying for the energy use of their tenants, though, then they will have to confirm installation with the energy supplier.

So there are no dangers in getting a smart meter, but what are the benefits?

The reason that so many of us have smart meters in our homes today is simply because it makes life easier. Being able to keep track of the energy you use and record this can help you know if you are being overcharged by your supplier, or possibly if something is going wrong. Instead of having to check a confusing gas or electricity meter, smart meters also give you the opportunity to view the information via the internet or a phone app.

You are also going to avoid those pesky, unexpected meter readings that have staff on your doorstep. Due to smart meters automatically recording your usage, your reading can be sent directly to your supplier and help you avoid estimated readings and inaccurate billing. They also make it easier for the National Grid to manage consumption, due to giving more information on the entire nations energy demands.

Another thing to note is that smart meters are reliant on your mobile network, meaning that there may be a gap in their obtaining data when this network is down. In contrast to analogue meters, that work independently at all times.

Unfortunately, a smart meter has a varied lifespan of around 12-15 years in comparison to the analogue meters 30-50 years, but with the benefits added, it is hard to see this as too much of a failure.

To put it simply, you can refer to the table below to weigh up your options for whether you may wish to switch to a smart meter, or stick with the analogue option you already have in your home. This table should be one quick way to determine what is suitable depending on what aspects are most important for you in your home.

Comment/concernSmart MetersAnalogue Meters
Tracking your energy useYESNO
Available to view onlineYESNO
Control from your mobile phoneYESNO
Reliant on your mobile networkYESNO
Transferable between energy providersNOYES
View your energy in poundsYESNO
No more estimated billsYESNO
You must provide a meter reading to the supplierNOYES
Reduces your environmental impactYESNO
Options to prepay your meterYESYES
High rates of customer satisfactionYESYES

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