Truckee, California (just north of Lake Tahoe) is unique in that its utility company (Truckee Donner PUD) uses all three types of electrical meter systems: Analog, AMR and AMI (“smart” meters). During a recent visit, I made several short videos of each type of meter system to help you easily identify the type of electrical meter on your home. The final video below shows the new type of smart meter that the utility is installing. You can also find measuring equipment and possible solutions at the bottom of this article.
These meters have proven to be safe, effective and highly reliable for over a century. They have none of the health, safety, fire, security and privacy risks that AMR and AMI meters have. Note: In the following video I show how the analog meter is not emitting RF pulses nor has an FCC ID for transmitting RF. Yet, the utility states that all of their meters are read remotely (out of necessity because of the significant snowfalls in the Sierra). This type of analog “ERT” meter has a transceiver in it that “wakes up” when the utility truck drives by. By transmitting data only once per month, this is the safest option of all communicating electrical meters.
These meters only transmit one direction – typically to a utility truck that drives by once per month to collect your electrical usage data. This system is perhaps the dumbest because these meters are constantly emitting pulses of microwave radiation just so that a utility employee doesn’t have to get out of a truck once per month. Why not program the meters so they wake-up and only transmit when the truck drives by? None of the following AMR meters would be safe to have next to a bedroom or living space where you spend a lot of time.
Here are three different types of AMR meters used in Truckee:
AMI “Smart” Meters:
This technology is what we commonly refer to as “Smart Meters” because it allows for two-way communication. With this system, the utility can communicate remotely with your meter – to turn off your electricity or certain appliances, install software updates and collect your electrical usage data in real time. Throughout the United States, the current design of wireless “smart” meters have injured thousands of people, caused countless fires and introduced a level of surveillance and hacking risk that our society has never experienced. This recent article by an electrical engineer partly explains why so many people have been injured by smart meters – even by “opt-out” AMI meters with no RF antenna.
The above video is of a PG&E smart meter in California. The Silver Springs mesh network system utilizes constant RF pulses to synchronize the meters that have been highly damaging to people’s health. Fortunately, it appears that Truckee Donner PUD is implementing a different type of system by Aclara that utilizes much fewer pulses of microwave radiation. Here is a video from their AMI pilot project and confirms what a Truckee Donner PUD employee stated to me in that “they want to have the least amount of RF in their community possible.” The utility has also stated that they will not force the new meters on any of their customers.
K.T. Weaver of Smart Grid Awareness confirmed that the above Aclara Smart Meter system uses point-to-point communication every 15 minutes at a frequency of 460 MHz. Its antenna is also lower powered than most typical smart meters (0.5 Watt vs. 1 or 2 Watts). This means there is no mesh network (as most utilities use) and this system will create less RF within the community of Truckee than a typical AMI smart meter system. You can read the fact sheets on this Aclara AMI system here and here. At 460 MHz, the 15-minute pulses from the AMI meter in the above video would have been too low of a frequency to be registered by the Gigahertz Solutions RF meter, which has a range from 800 MHz to 2.7 GHz.
Additional Update (2020):
Truckee Donner PUD has begun installing an Itron AMI smart meter system. These meters appear to have the 2.4 GHz ZigBee antenna activated, which communicates with “smart” appliances throughout the home. These pulses are in addition to the RF pulses at 900 MHz that are used to send the electrical data back to the utility (through a mesh network). You can hear the ZigBee antenna pulses in the video below. The Truckee-Donner PUD is also offering an opt-out of their smart meter program for any resident that asks for this. After considerable pushback from the community, the board voted 5-0 to authorize the opt-out program.
For more information on the relative health and privacy risks of various electrical meter systems, I encourage you to read this report by Ron Powell. It ranks various meter systems that are currently used throughout the United States. Nothing beats the safety and privacy of an analog meter and, for the healthy of our society, this option must be available to everyone.
If you are interested in measuring microwave sources in your community, the RF meter I used in these videos is the Gigahertz Solutions HF35C. I now recommend the Safe and Sound Pro II. It picks up a wider frequency range and is more accurate than the HF35C.
If you live in a state that does not currently have an opt-out policy, I recommend that you work with your community to demand this. In the short term, you can partially shield your smart meter using a Smart Meter Guard and AL60 Wall Shield on the inside of wall as I discuss in #9 on this page.