• 15 OCT 12
    • 1

    End the not-so-smart spin with real smart meter research

    To give an idea of what kind of research those promoting smart grid/meter technology spend their money on see the latest spin put out by the British Department of Energy and Climate Change. Titled, Quantitative Research into Public Awareness, Attitudes and Experience of Smart Meters, the report assessed consumer awareness of, attitude to, and understanding/experience of smart meters and in-home displays (IHDs). In answer to the widespread reports of adverse health effects in countries after the introduction of smart meters, the researchers simply claim that that the negative issues identified could probably be resolved by reassurance, and that consumers would still be willing to accept the technology.

    This conclusion suggests that concerns over possible health hazards from smart meters are probably a result of public misunderstandings and unfounded fears – in other words, ignorance.

    In Victoria, Australia specifically, but also internationally, the central concern of many consumers is the possibility of health hazards, based on a large and increasing number of people reporting illness after a smart meter was installed on their homes. The only way these consumers will be reassured and become willing to accept the technology isn’t by slick PR campaigns and reassuring words in glossy brochures but by real research to determine the extent of possible health hazards, the predominant one being an effect on sleep quality.

    All those organizations promoting the roll-out of smart meters in Victoria should jump at the chance to really prove that their equipment will not make consumers sick – if they really are so convinced that there can be no possible health hazards from exposure to smart meter emissions and its all just a matter of ignorant, worried consumers. If this were the case, then why not clarify the controversy by funding the necessary research, conducted by research/medical organizations with no conflicts of interest as I propose below?

    Pandora’s Box

    Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that such research constitutes a huge unacceptable financial risk for the many corporations deeply $$$$ committed to rolling out the smart grid. Research that may find a clear adverse effect on the sleep cycle from smart meter emissions, and which could be replicated in other laboratories, could be sufficient enough to trigger a massive class action to rival the tobacco wars.

    There are a number of independent* sleep research centres in Australia that could do the work. The same could be said for Canada, the UK and the US, perhaps all using the criteria for the research.

    *Independent means freedom from industry influence and so this rules out in Australia the Bioelectromagnetics Group at Swinbourne University and the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR). Unfortunately, even though these two organizations are infested by a culture of conflict of interest and bias, Australia’s peak medical research body, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) continues to support and give credibility to these organizations. This is despite the fact that they are allied with Telstra who’s research mission is to deny the existence of any RF health hazards below the thermally based standard limits – thereby protecting their corporate bottom line.

    A real research proposal

    From a public health perspective, the increasing evidence that smart meter RF emissions may be having an adverse health impact calls for an urgent research effort, given the sheer number of people who will be exposed (over 5.5 million residents in Victoria) once the roll-out is completed. Even if only a small percentage of these 5.5 million people are adversely affected, this represents a significant public health issue given the large number exposed. To simply dismiss this possibility as just due to public ignorance and fear without a serious research effort is inexcusable.

    One way to proceed with this research is to take the ’worst case scenario’ – when a bedhead is next to a smart meter on the outside of the wall and design a study to determine if smart meter emissions affect sleep patterns. This should be done as a double blind study, through an independent sleep centre. One way to proceed would be to set up a sleeping room with a functioning smart meter close to the bedhead on the other side of the wall so it is not seen by the participants. As it might be difficult to set up an operating smart meter in a laboratory situation, it may be easier to use an existing residence with a bed placed by an existing smart meter that has been modified to be able to be switched on and off at random times. Smart meter emissions would be confidentially recorded throughout the study using suitable equipment to determine if there is a correlation between sleep patterns and emissions. A questionnaire would also be used to gauge participants self reported symptoms.

    Ask for healthy volunteers (equal numbers of males and females) to spend a few nights sleeping in the room, while collecting EEG (electroencephalogram) data to gauge sleep and brain wave patterns, etc. The meter would be switched on and off for some of the volunteers but neither the volunteers nor the people overseeing the experiment will know whether the smart meter is active or not. A questionnaire would also be used to assess other health issues, such as depression, stress, anxiety levels, and tinnitus, for example.

    A second part of the study would be to also call for volunteers who claim to be adversely affected by smart meter emissions to see if their symptoms correlate with the times the meter is emitting. A provocation study could be included here to see if these subjects could sense whether or not the meter was active while awake. Most important, an unblinded and independent oversight committee would be created and would include members from concerned trade unions, public interest groups and the medical fraternity. This would be to ensure that the eventual findings have been obtained without “hiddden hand” influence.

    If at the end of the study there are no significant differences in sleep patterns, even when sleeping next to an active smart meter, that would go a long way internationally to assure the public that smart meters are safe.

    If on the other hand, clear differences in sleep patterns are seen, an urgent reevaluation of smart meter technology will be made necessary. This would also show that all current RF standards, based on thernal effects only, are insufficient for public health protection.

    Another alternative part of a study would be to provide monitoring equipment and training on its use so that people claiming they are being affected by a smart meter can wire themselves up before going to bed. Such a program is already in use in Australia and although it has its obvious limitations, it could be a useful adjunct to a fuller study.

    It is possible to design the above suggested study and find suitable sleep centres to do the research. The BIG question however, is who would provide the funding?

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