By Paula Melton
Radio Frequency Exposure from Common Devices
Some critics have raised concerns about radio frequency (RF) emissions from smart meters. As shown in this chart, risk of exposure is very low compared with the risk of RF exposure associated with other common devices. RF exposure from cell phone use, for example, is many orders of magnitude higher—in part because the device is used right next to the head.
A new report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that a popular variety of “smart” meter installed by utilities does not cause excessive radio frequency (RF) exposure during normal operation. The meters employ wireless technology to transmit real-time energy-use data to utilities. As power and gas companies have begun installing them, however, some customers have protested (with a few reporting the onset of mysterious illnesses after installation), and some studies have claimed RF exposure might exceed U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limits.
The California Public Utilities Commission responded to customer protests in March 2011 by ordering Pacific Electric & Gas to let customers opt out of smart meter installation. But according to the EPRI study, which used empirical data from two areas in California, the exposure risk from smart meters is much lower than that associated with many common household items that people use frequently and keep much closer to their bodies.
The meters transmit only during a fraction of the day, and exposure levels remain well below regulated limits—about 8% of what FCC considers acceptable—even when a person stands close to a continuously transmitting meter (which is unlikely to occur, since the meters do not transmit continuously and are generally placed outside of buildings). The report went on to compare RF exposure levels from smart meters to exposure levels caused by televisions and wireless routers; in contrast, cell phones and microwave ovens cause much higher and more localized RF exposure.
April 1, 2011