What is a smart meter and is it dangerous?

A bank of smart meters, one for each unit, is installed at Monroe Place in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (Li
A bank of smart meters, one for each unit, is installed at Monroe Place in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Advanced meter infrastructures implemented by Alliant Energy and Linn County REC include the replacement of existing analog or digital meters with a more advanced counterpart.

Officials with both utility companies say some customers have misconceptions on what exactly the new meters do and don’t do. Here’s what they say:

Smart meters do:

• Record meter readings, energy use and overall peak demand

• Help detect and pinpoint power outages

• Provide a more precise reading of a customer’s energy use

Smart meters don’t:

• Collect data on activity taking place inside a house or business

• Record how power is being used by a customer

• Allow the utility access to equipment or information within a home or business

A smart meter looks like a digital meter but is equipped to send a low-energy radio frequency — similar to the signal sent by cellphones, Wi-Fi routers and baby monitors — to the energy provider.

Utility company officials have said the meters transmit a few short signals over the course of a day, equal to about one second in total.

Alliant officials have said each smart meter is connected back to the company in a manner that makes for a secure network.

The radio frequency from a smart meter is transmitted from outside the home and is compliant with regulatory organization Underwriters Laboratories and the Federal Communications Commission.


According to the American Cancer Society, smart meters give off non-ionizing, low-energy radiation, which “has enough energy to move atoms in a molecule around or cause them to vibrate, which can lead to heat but it can’t damage DNA directly.”

The society notes that while radio frequency radiation is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” it isn’t clear what risk, if any, smart meters pose.

“It would be nearly impossible to conduct a study to prove or disprove a link between living in a house with smart meters and cancer because people have so many sources of exposure to (radio frequency radiation), and the level of exposure from this source is so small,” the cancer society notes.

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