Smart Meters Should Do No Harm

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions

Smart Meters Should Do No Harm RevI discovered a new article [1] written by Nick Hunn of WiFore Consulting Ltd. regarding the status of the smart meter program in the UK, dated August 1, 2016.  In May 2016, Mr. Hunn provided testimony before the UK House of Commons’ Science and Technology’s “evidence check” as was highlighted at this website in a separate article [2].  In particular, Mr. Hunn has been critical of the smart meter’s remote disconnect capability from a cyber security perspective, stating in his testimony that:

“If somebody could hack into that or just by mistake turn off very large numbers of meters, that sudden shock of taking them off the grid, and even worse be able to turn back on at the same time, would cause significant damage.  And to me that’s an unnecessary risk.”

Hunn has a unique and colorful writing style when making his points.  His latest article reiterates concern about inherent security flaws for smart meters and that there could soon be an unraveling of the UK smart meter program due to cost overruns and fewer projected benefits.

Here is an excerpt from Nick Hunn’s latest article [1]:

“Hello, this is the British Electricity Smart Meter hotline.  You are number two million, four hundred and sixty eight thousand, two hundred and twenty three in a queue.  We’re sorry your smart meter has disconnected you and that you have no electricity.  We are working to upgrade the firmware in all of our smart meters and hope to have your power restored sometime in the next six months.  Thank you for your call.”

It’s the scenario that no-one in the energy industry wants to talk about – the day that Britain’s smart meters go wrong or get hacked and millions of users lose power.  …

It’s widely accepted in the Internet of Things community that security will get broken and that the connected things will get hacked, especially if there are lots of them and they continue to be used for five years or more.  …

Post Brexit, there is no mandate for smart metering which the UK will have to follow.  DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] interpreted the EU mandate predominantly to provide climate friendly sound bites for successive flavours of Government ministers, not for any financial or technical reasons.  An evidence-based review in Germany has recently concluded that it makes no sense to install smart meters for the bulk of domestic homes, so they are not.  There’s no reason we can’t make the same decision. …

Post Brexit, DECC is no more and our energy policy is now officially RUDDerless, as Amber [Rudd] has moved on to greater things.  …

Returning to the subject of updates, we need to know that the smart meters which are about to be deployed are fit for [the] purpose.  The energy industry should have an equivalent of the Hippocratic oath in which as a minimum, smart meters should do no harm. [emphasis added]  These are complex, connected devices, so that minimum should mean that they can be quickly updated en masse if security issues are detected, to ensure that they could not be compromised and cut off a household’s electricity.

I particularly like Hunn’s reference to the energy industry having a standard that “smart meters should do no harm.” [3]  There are so many areas where application of this standard might prevent broad-based deployments of smart meters.  Certainly in the area of cyber threats, Nick Hunn has written that the hackability of the remote disconnect feature of most smart meters should give one pause regarding continued smart meter deployments:

“We need to question whether the benefit to utilities of having a remote disconnect has been weighed up against the risk of hacking and major grid disruption?  We need to question whether firmware is being written as safety critical software?  My experience is that in this industry it is not.  And we need to understand whether there is enough expertise within DECC and our utilities to manage and assess the security requirements of the deployment.  If the answer to any of these questions is no, we should stop the programme.” [2]

In the area of health, the utility industry proclaims that “digital smart meters pose no health threats.” [7]  However, a little known document published by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 2011 is less conclusive.  Participants at an EPRI meeting in 2011 acknowledged “major uncertainties and research gaps” regarding exposure to smart grid wireless emissions.  They acknowledged consistently observed non-thermal effects on brain activity; they also recognized unknown potential “long-term ramifications,” possible “allergic reactions,” and possible sensitive populations that have not yet been studied.  For example, as stated in the 2011 EPRI document:

“The electricity industry will need to carefully characterize the new exposure environment represented by SG [smart grid] devices in general, and by the smart meter in particular.  They will need to be able to place these additional exposures into the broader context of RF exposure in order to respond effectively to public concerns.  The rapidly changing scale and nature of cell phone exposure is likely to complicate the health effects debate over smart meters for many years.” 

“While there are consistent physiological effects on brain activity from RF exposure below thermal effect levels…,  the underlying mechanisms remain unknown.  This is perhaps the single greatest research gap in this area.  It is important to understand what is behind these effects now that they have been consistently reported. …  The relevance to health of EEG brain activity is not clear.” 

“An important aspect for health research is the potential long-term ramifications.  All studies to date have only addressed effects from short-term exposures (acute effects).  The significance of long-term, low level exposure to brain physiology is unknown, as are the potential for cumulative and/or adaptation effects.”

“A number of RF health studies dealing with different end points have reported slight elevations in risk over time, suggesting that studying today’s adults may not be a reliable indicator of the effects on the next generation.  Children will be subject to far greater exposures during their lifetimes than adults, and will be subject to these exposures during their most vulnerable stages of development.” [8]

Additionally, just this month, a number of scientists and doctors wrote a letter to the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) on the subject of smart meter opt-outs.  Specifically, as written by David Carpenter, MD, Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD, Magda Havas, BSc, PhD, Martha Herbert, MD, PhD, and Sam Milham, MD, MPH:

“We, the undersigned, are a group of scientists and health professionals who together have coauthored many peer-reviewed studies on the health effects of radiofrequency radiation (RFR).”

“With Duke Energy being America’s largest utility provider and, consequently, having the largest potential smart meter implementation reach, it is imperative that the NCUC be fully aware of the harm that RFR can cause and allow utility customers to opt out of smart meter installation with no penalty.”

“Citizens rely on their government agencies for protection from harm.  Accordingly, we urge the NCUC to reject any fees or tariffs associated with smart meter opt-out and allow citizens to opt out without penalty.”

“The adverse health impacts of low intensity RFR are real, significant and for some people debilitating.  We want to stress three fundamentals as your agency proceeds to consider a smart meter opt-out:

  • The Federal Communication Commission’s safety standards do not apply to low intensity RFR.
  • There is no safe level of exposure established for RFR.
  • People around the world are suffering from low intensity RFR exposure, being at increased risk of developing both cancer and EHS.” [9]

Whether it is to reduce the number of cyber attacks or health effects, privacy invasions or the numbers of catastrophic meter failures, governments and utility companies should keep in mind the standard of, “Smart Meters Should Do No Harm.”  If they do so in an objective manner, I think they will find that the increased company financial profits and alleged environmental benefits of smart meters do not outweigh the harm caused and the risk and effects of catastrophic harm yet to be experienced.

References and Notes

[1] “Smart Meter Update,” by Nick Hunn, August 1, 2016; for the full article by Mr. Hunn, visit http://www.nickhunn.com/smart-meter-update/; excerpt provided in this article printed with permission from Nick Hunn.

[2] “Smart Meter Remote Disconnect: An ‘Unnecessary Risk’ for Significant Damage to the Grid,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, May 2016, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2016/05/12/smart-meter-remote-disconnect-an-unnecessary-risk-for-significant-damage-to-the-grid/

[3] It is a common belief by writers that the Hippocratic Oath includes an axiom that “above all, do no harm,” or “first, do no harm.”  Depending on the translation to English, the Oath does include a reference to “abstain from doing harm” but the specific expression of “above all, do no harm” cannot be attributed to Hippocrates. [4][5][6]

[4] “Origin and Uses of Primum Non Nocere – Above All, Do No Harm!,” by Cedric Smith, The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, volume 45, issue 4, pages 371–377, April 2005; available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1177/0091270004273680/abstract

[5] “Hippocratic oath,” at The Free Dictionary, at http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Hippocratic+oath

[6] “Primum non nocere” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primum_non_nocere 

[7] “Do smart meters pose a health risk? What credible research has been conducted on radio frequency and smart meters?,” by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, at http://www.whatissmartgrid.org/faqs/do-smart-meters-pose-a-health-risk-what-credible-research-has-been-conducted-on-radio-frequency-and-smart-meters

[8] “Questions Remain Unanswered Regarding Potential Health Effects Related to Smart Grid Technologies,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, March 2016, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2016/03/11/smart-grid-health-effect-questions-remain-unanswered/

[9] Letter to the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC), dated August 2, 2016; available at https://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/nc-letter-on-smart-meter-opt-outs.pdf

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About SkyVision Solutions

Raising public awareness and finding solutions for smart grid issues related to invasions of privacy, data security, cyber threats, health and societal impacts, as well as hazards related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation emissions from all wireless devices, including smart meters.
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