Smart meters: health risks unlikely
Act No. 2015-992 of 17 August 2015 on the energy transition for green growth authorises the deployment of smart meters throughout France capable of the day-to-day transmission of electricity and gas consumption readings to energy suppliers. Water distribution companies have also started upgrading their water meters. ANSES therefore carried out an expert appraisal to assess the exposure of the population to the electromagnetic fields emitted by these devices and any potential associated health effects. In the Opinion it published today, the Agency concludes that it is unlikely that exposure to electromagnetic fields emitted by smart meters, as they are currently being deployed, would generate health effects in either the short or the long term. However, it calls on the operators involved in the deployment of these new technologies to provide users with clear and easily understandable information on the way they operate.
The installation of smart meters, enabling electricity, gas and water consumption readings to be taken remotely and transmitted to suppliers daily, and with a view to helping users control their energy consumption, has raised concerns among part of the population: possible additional cost for subscribers, respect for privacy, use of personal data, etc. Consumers are also concerned about potential health risks related to exposure to the electromagnetic fields emitted by these different meters.
In this context, the French Directorate General for Health (DGS) asked ANSES to carry out an expert appraisal to assess the exposure of the population to the electromagnetic fields emitted by smart meters and any potential associated health effects.
Exposure to smart meters
The Linky smart electricity meter communicates consumption information by a wired connection, over the electricity distribution network via relay points, using Power Line Communication (PLC) technology. "Gazpar" gas meters and water meters communicate with these relay points by wireless radio link.
In the Opinion it published today, the Agency concludes that it is unlikely that exposure to electromagnetic fields emitted by either radio-frequency smart meters (gas and water) or other meters (electricity), as they are currently being deployed, would generate health effects in either the short or the long term.
The Agency collected data from measurement campaigns carried out to characterise exposure related to smart meters. In the case of the Linky electricity meter, the levels of exposure to the electromagnetic field produced by the meter itself, and also by the CPL communication that travels through the electrical cables, are far lower than the regulatory exposure limit values. The Linky meters, whether in terms of electrical or magnetic fields, cause exposure comparable to the exposure to other electrical equipment that has already been used in homes for many years (televisions, laptop chargers, induction hobs, etc.).
Exposure in the vicinity of a gas or water meter is very low, taking into account the low emission power and the reduced number of communications (less than one second 2 to 6 times per day). Exposure due to meters is well below that due to a GSM mobile phone, for example.
Furthermore, the signals produced by Linky meters on the home network can be compared to those from parasites created by switching on domestic appliances (high-voltage transients). Currently, there are no data suggesting that high-voltage transients can affect health at the exposure levels measured.
A measurement campaign requested by ANSES from the French Scientific and Technical Centre for Building (CSTB), whose results are expected soon, will clarify the exposure (expected to be low considering the mode of operation) due to Linky meters under real conditions of use (duration and levels of exposure, etc.). In particular, these measurements should enable a comparison between exposure in the home to older electromechanical meters and that due to the new Linky meters.
In order to provide better information on the user environment, the Agency calls on operators involved in the deployment of these new technologies to provide users with clear and easily understandable information on the way they operate now and will operate in the future, in particular including the frequency and duration of exposure to the electromagnetic fields that these technologies can produce.
Finally, it should be noted that the deployment of smart meters comes at a time when connected objects are proliferating for various applications, while the communications infrastructure (especially relay antennas) is mostly already in place. It is quite possible that in the next few years these developments in digital connectivity will be extended to include services and infrastructure for individuals, homes and entire cities, especially in the areas of energy, transport and health (smart networks, smart cities, etc.).
The issue of the exposure of individuals to electromagnetic fields should be anticipated and systematically addressed in this changing environment. The Agency therefore recommends that the development of connected objects be accompanied by the definition of appropriate methods and tools (technical standards) to facilitate the characterisation of population exposure.
How smart meters work
The "Linky" smart meter is paged once a day to record (collect) consumption readings. Transmission occurs between midnight and 6 a.m. and lasts for less than a minute. The meter can also be paged by the outdoor relay point several times a day to ensure that it is functioning properly or for other tasks (remote operations for example).
The "Gazpar" gas meter and water meters transmit consumption readings to a relay point from two to six times a day, in less than a second. The relay point, installed on the roof of a building, then sends the data to the information system via the GPRS/3G network.