André Fauteux (Publisher/Editor, La Maison du 21e siècle magazine) interviews Sal La Duca (Indoor Environmental Consultant)
What do you recommend people do to reduce their exposure to smart meter emissions?
You ask such complex questions, but (I suspect) require simple answers. Smart Meters are a subset of AMR (Automated Meter Reading) which has been around for decades. It is not the habit of those installing such meters to change them when newer technology becomes available, if the payback period for the previous meter installation has not been fulfilled (that would be throwing money out the window, and is frowned upon). So there remain in place a variety of permutations of Smart Meters. Some are accessible by a telephone land-line and modem. May sound antiquated, but they still work, so they remain in place. Some are accessible by data they impress (at various frequencies) onto the 240V supply to residences or otherwise for business, which data is then aggregated in power substations, and then sent to the ultimate destination by other means. Some are accessible by wireless communication only when polled. Some are accessible by wireless communication by schedule. Some have modified schedules to meet the business need. So the question that begs to be asked is: reduce the exposure from what kind of meter? If you severely restrict the answer to one type and one type only, being the latest and greatest, which may reduce the value of the answer, then I could say, have the meter and the meter housing removed temporarily, install a cement board (such as what is used in baths to install tiles) where the meter housing was attached, and reattach the meter and housing. Cement / Concrete is partially conductive (and does not need to be grounded), and will reduce the Radiated signal greatly, if we’re talking strictly Radio Frequency (RF). If the meter and housing cannot be removed, then a cement panel installed on the other side of the wall may be helpful, but the added distance between the panel and the meter will shrink the area of reduced intensity. Simpler solutions are largely ineffective for various reasons.
What are typical safe distances (some people seems to react at least 4 meters away)
Making the rash assumption that the Radiated power is similar to that from a cell phone, the question needs to be conditioned on what structures exist between the meter and the user, as I seriously doubt that anyone spends a lot of time by such meters, on the same side of the wall. If you were to consider Thermal guidelines, then maybe 12 inches is quite enough, again considering that there may be people sleeping on the other side of the meter. If you consider non-thermal effects, and consider the Inverse Square Law of emitted level reduction, then about 10 feet (close to three (3) meters) may be sufficient, also dependent on the sensitivity of the individual.
What do you recommend on ways to shield their RFs? (Some recommend 4 layers of foil paper)
There are some myths that readers need to unlearn. One of them is that Aluminum / foil is the solution. It is NOT. Aluminum is highly conductive. Placing it anywhere within an alternating field (Electric, Magnetic, or RF), the foil will acquire voltages and currents of its own and act like a secondary antenna. So the solution is to ground it. But grounding it needs to have wavelength considerations come into play, because if the grounding cord is any multiple of a quarter (¼) wavelength of the frequency you want to block, the grounding cord may become electrically absent. So the grounding effort fails. So the “expert” calculates the wavelength based on the speed of light in a vacuum (being about 180,000 miles/second) and cuts a cord of the proper length. This effort fails too, because the speed of moving electrons in/on a wire is slower than the speed of light. So “expert” recommendations of 4 layers are not based on fact. See a suggestion in the first answer.
If their emissions a so much lower than WiFi and cell phones, why are so many people reporting electrosensitivity symptoms appearing for the first time in their life after their installation in their home?
This is a complex issue, partly based on occupant awareness, partly based on electric wiring type, partly based on electric fixture arrangement, partly based on meter type. I’ll try to cover some aspects but cannot do justice without a real lengthy discourse, or covering all variables, which gets very technical very quickly. Utilities eligible for smart meter application are water, gas, and electric. Water and gas may not have the benefit of nearby AC, so their design minimizes transmit bursts and repetition rate, as that is the greatest drain of battery resources. I have a smart meter on my water utility and it is powered by a battery designed to last several, if not many, years. Since meter design is more economical when standardized, I strongly suspect the electric utility smart meter application is similarly a very low powered device. Be that as it may, electric utility smart meters have the benefit of nearby power, and since they cannot use 120/240 directly, they use a switching power supply for their needs, instead of transformer. The current waveform and related emissions spectrum is described in detail at http://www.emfrelief.com/capacitive-filters.html – Peculiarly our homes are acquiring an abundant supply of many such switching power supplies. A recent LED lamp I tested had one. My and your laptop PCs each have one. Fluorescent lamps of any kind produce a very similar waveform. LED spotlights have them within the spotlight case. Your cell phone charger is one. Your telephone answering machine may have one. Your camera battery charger is one. Need I go on? What is really happening is that the electromagnetic spectrum within a home is becoming rich with wideband energy (harmonics of 60 Hz), from 60 Hz to the MHz region by various and many contributors. Many of these frequencies are within the hearing range. Many of these frequencies have biological importance. Being that many homes have Romex, brings about a vehicle to convey those rich harmonics in free space about the home. Those currents produce voltages that are impressed on the supply voltage within the affected residence, as well as the supply transformer, which feeds several other homes. So if you do not have electrical noisemakers in your home, and your neighbor does, you have electrical noisemakers in your home. Surprise? While our homes acquire an abundant supply of these electrical noise sources, the body approaches the point where it can no longer tolerate them. All of these sources produce current and voltage fluctuations (while the physics are simple, my web site only makes passing reference to the exacting details, but I’ll be glad to explain, if needed) that some call a portion of (the voltage component only) dirty electricity. Some appear to provide solutions that make the voltage fluctuations diminish at the expense of increasing the current fluctuations. Unless both current and voltage issues are addressed, any solution is asinine. A recent e-mail thread of yours made reference to transients as contrasted to dirty electricity. Turning a lamp on or off, for example, causes a single electrical transient, detectable everywhere else in the home. Turning that lamp on and off 120 times per second mimics a dimmer switch or a fluorescent lamp, making a train of individual transients, and some call that dirty electricity. So one is simply a longer duration of the other. If I may digress for a moment and add in some of the more recent snippets in the media highlighting wireless devices as possibly being unsafe, can cause a homeowner to panic and bring about the inevitable (electrosensitivity) almost as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would suspect, however, that in many cases that is not so, and the electrosensitivity is simply an inevitable outcome of a gradual building up of biologically significant frequency inputs. An additional thought is that the wireless emissions produce bursts of energy whose wave envelope (or wave-shape) resembles a square wave. Anything other than a sine wave (such as 60 Hz) is a combination of many sine waves of different frequencies. A 60 Hz square wave is a combination of an infinite series of odd harmonics of 60 Hz. If the wireless transmit burst is around 200 Hz, then add in an infinite series of odd harmonics of 200 Hz, and you begin to get the picture. This is basic physics. When those waveforms are impressed on residential wiring by Radiated emissions, they then become Conducted waveforms on the wires. These are then distributed about the home by the same mechanism mentioned earlier. If there are several smart meters in the neighborhood, their being in common to one transformer can cause an additive effect. That is, two meters on one transformer at 500 bursts each = 1000 conducted emissions per day, four meters = 2000 conducted emissions per day, six meters = 3000. If we use your example of 1500 per day, and there are six meters, that would be 9000 combined emissions per day, equivalent to one every 20 seconds, if they are distributed evenly. What we don’t know, and cannot, because one system configuration will be different from another, is what the overall behavior will be in any one situation, without extensive testing. But most customers cannot pay to have someone stand by the meter for even a few hours to determine the meter behavior. While there are several companies that sell passive capacitive filters, these are not a solution (corroborated by engineers who are forced to evaluate all options, as highlighted by the following file, http://www.onsemi.com/pub/Collateral/HBD853-D.PDF (PS. Just read chapter one to understand the issues)). A symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility (http://2012emc.org) is being arranged for August 5-10 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. It will cover aspects of Power Frequency EMI (Electromagnetic Interference), of which switching power supplies are prolific producers. It may even cover aspects of smart metering effects induced on wiring. It may be worthwhile to attend for any who analyze or troubleshoot electrical systems, or try to engineer solutions.
What utilities have adopted the safest approach and what is it?
Utilities are not concerned with a “safe” approach, as they have carte blanche as long as the emissions are below thermal levels. They have a legal mandate to provide power or other services at the lowest possible cost, due to various levels of regulation. Since we the customers want cheap rates, and we don’t suggest or tell them how, they are then free to choose what they think is the most feasible means as it relates to return on investment. The added benefit, as the power companies or other utilities see it, is that they can jettison their meter reading personnel, and all associated personnel costs.
Hydro-Quebec says they emit only 6 times a day, but that’s only the information on power use. Their Landis & Gyr meters actually emit RFs 1500 times a day.
That would mean once per minute. That absolutely doe not make sense. I would suspect a measurement artifact. These meters have the capability to perform data storage, so that lots of data points can be aggregated and sent in infrequent bursts. Even cell phones only check in every three minutes or so, when in standby, making their standby emissions about 500 RF bursts per day. The data transmit frequency you describe would imply that the utility is acquiring almost second by second consumption data to determine real-time usage, which is tantamount to invasive surveillance. Having worked as a power system dispatcher for six years, and having monitored data flows and adjusted regularly for regional or system-wide voltage fluctuations, I cannot see the use for that level of detail in real-time data other than eavesdropping, but that is just my opinion.
André Fauteux, Publisher/Editor
La Maison du 21e siècle magazine
Ste-Adèle (Qc) Canada J8B 3K9
Sal La Duca
Indoor Environmental Consultant