Can and should we refuse electric smart meters?

In all countries where smart meters are deployed, individuals, elected officials or groups oppose their deployment? Do they really have reason to do so?

In the invoked reasons for refusal, some seem legitimate (although I have not personally seen such cases): those recognized as electro-sensitive cannot be exposed to electromagnetic radiations they would suffer from, however small they are. In a country where the heating can be of electrical origin, monthly billing may result in actual invoices variations difficult to handle at low incomes.

But most of the reasons are actually fears, some being fully understandable.

– Fear of electromagnetic radiation from powerline carriers used. These powerline  carriers use a low frequency band emitting far less than the high-speed powerline carriers used to distribute Internet access in housing by many telecom operators.

– Fear of increased surveillance of people: in most cases of implementation of smart meters, they will at best allow to detect the presence or absence of individuals in housing. But the agglomeration of these data can learn about the lifestyle of the occupants of the dwelling.

– Fear of lack of confidentiality of data: data about us are often sources of income, sold to others for uses neither controlled nor monitored.

Against these refusals, smart meters offer a real benefit to the community: they allow to far better predict and monitor electricity consumption. They are a necessary building block to let energy companies ensure the necessary balance of power grids with an increasing share of production assured by intermittent and unpredictable energy sources. Production and consumption have to be indeed constantly balanced. In a context where production is predicted with increasing errors, it is necessary to seek to reduce the error on the consumption forecast.

To refuse a smart meter is to prevent the energy company from a way to balance its network with intermittent energy sources; it is, in other words, forcing it to give up these new sources of energy to return to an environment in which he can work. It is almost simplistic to summarize the situation in a choice between smart meters and intermittent clean energy.

From my point of view, it is not a question so far to force the adoption of smart meters without addressing consumer fears. For now, few energy companies have sought to answer the questions. Pedagogy, transparency and commitment will be needed to establish a level of trust allowing us, except in rare exceptions, to impose Smart Meters: pedagogy to explain the risks and choices made by energy companies, transparency as source of confidence, commitment to which relates to the use made of the data collected.

Beyond a mandatory deployment justified by the above conditions, it may be possible for a citizen to refuse a smart meter if it compensates the energy company and the community of the benefits that are made unavailable by his choice.

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