[Editor’s Note: For our latest column we turn to a cross post provided to us by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) from its Texas Energy Exchange blog. EDF attorney Lauren Navarro talks about smart grid technology.]
As you may have heard, the roll out of smart grid technology in California has raised some health concerns over the safety of smart meter use. As a result, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) has ordered Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to develop an alternative to wireless meters.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is following this issue closely. Our organization offers a unique perspective given our proven track record of enabling markets and innovation to gain environmental benefits. Our national organization is working across the country to advance smart grid deployment in a way that ensures maximum consumer, economic, and environmental benefits. To do so, we are working with public utilities and regulatory commissions on smart grid policy and advancing smart grid pilots such as Austin’s world-renowned Pecan Street Project.
Deploying an effective smart grid throughout the country is a national priority supported by multiple stakeholders: from companies like GE, Cisco and Google, who see it as key to the future of their businesses, America’s global competitiveness, and job growth, to Chambers of Commerce, who see the huge economic development and security benefits in making more energy at home and keeping energy dollars at home, to consumer groups like the Citizens Utility Board, our partner in Illinois, who see it as the only way to keep electric bills from climbing steeply in the years to come. Right now, our outdated energy grid wastes approximately 10% of generated electricity just in transmission and distribution, costing the consumer roughly $25 billion a year. We lose another estimated $100b in black-outs, which a smart grid will help us avoid.
Digital “smart” meters, capable of two-way communication between customers and electric utilities, are key to realizing the multiple benefits of a smart grid.
A properly designed smart grid will help households and businesses reap many economic and environmental benefits. It will allow us to greatly reduce our use of dirty energy, improving air quality and the health of millions of Americans now hurt by dangerous air pollution. With easy-to-use tools, such as online updates on how much energy they’re using and what it’s costing, consumers will be able to make choices that lower their bills. Businesses will be able to pinpoint the most valuable opportunities to make their buildings and operations more energy efficient, saving money. Utilities will be able to provide customers with more reliable service.
Smart meters allow information to flow between meters and utilities by utilizing radio frequencies (RF) such as those currently used by AM/FM radios, baby monitors and cell phones. Studies (such as research by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) and the Electric Power Research Institute) have found no evidence that these radio frequencies pose risks to human health. In fact, the CCST report released earlier this year found that even if smart meters were on 100% of the time, an individual’s exposure would be a very low (4 uW/cm3). To put this number into perspective, the average exposure to RFs from using a cell phone is between 1,000 and 5,000 uW/cm3 or 250 – 1, 250 times that from a smart meter.
A well-designed smart grid will be a boon to public health. It will improve our quality of life, grow our economy, and drive the clean energy revolution we need.
For more information regarding the benefits of a smart grid, please view EDF’s fact sheet here.
Lauren Navarro is an attorney who coordinates EDF’s state smart grid regulatory work and its legislative strategy for the California Climate Initiative.