Despite the rosy predictions about the future of smart grid, consumer concerns have arisen as a major obstacle hindering the deployment of smart meters. One of the most significant of these concerns is a fear that the radiofrequency fields (RF) that the devices emit pose a serious public health risk. An environmental health activist in Scarborough, Maine, for instance, warns that they will “blanket entire neighborhoods and homes with strong, cancer-causing wireless radiation.” Some municipalities have pursued moratoriums on installations. Are these people right to worry?
Analyses of RF emissions related to cell phone use indicate that the answer is no, but with a disclaimer. Numerous federal agencies and international organizations—including the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization—have determined that RF emissions from mobile phones do not threaten users’ health. Energy companies point to these findings to address consumer fears, explaining that smart meters expose humans to a much lower power density than cell phones do. But the research isn’t perfect. The World Health Organization, for instance, has said,
[R]esearch examining potential long-term risks from radiofrequency exposure has mostly looked for an association between brain tumours and mobile phone use. However, because many cancers are not detectable until many years after the interactions that led to the tumour, and since mobile phones were not widely used until the early 1990s, epidemiological studies at present can only assess those cancers that become evident within shorter time periods.
Considering this statement, concern with RF emissions seems valid in general. However, this concern should be targeted at cell phones, not smart meters. After all, the RF emissions from the cell phone you carry in your pocket and hold against your head are much stronger than those from the smart meter installed in your home.
In the meantime, smart meter proprietors have a responsibility to build upon the research pertaining to RF emissions. They must investigate how to minimize unforeseen health consequences, not only to protect the public, but also to prevent consumer fears from continuing to thwart the progress of vital smart grid technologies.