Tairua “smart” water meter update

On Thursday or Friday (April 24 or 25, 2014) I put in a request under the Official Information Act to the Thames-Coromandel District Council for information about the trail of “smart” water meters planned for the town of Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsula during May 2014. I addressed the request to Mr Bruce Hinson, who is the Thames Coromandel Council Infrastructure Manager.

On Wednesday (April 30), I received an email from a member of the engineering team stating that the Council could answer my questions, but it would cost me $114 – and payment was required before they would action the request.  (Under the Official Information Act (OIA) councils and other government agencies are allowed to charge for time to prepare answers to OIA requests, but they do not usually do so.)  The tone of the email was friendly, so I decided to phone the respondent to discuss the matter, so that is what I did on May 2, 2014.

I spoke at length to a very personable young man who recently graduated from university with a degree in civil and environmental engineering who is working on the “smart” water meter trial. He explained that the Council’s objective in trialing the “smart” water meters was to better manage water for Tairua.

 

Rationale for the trial of “smart” water meters in Tairua

Water for the town of Tairua is drawn from a river, which naturally carries lower water volumes during summer when demand for water peaks due to an influx of  people arriving for summer holidays in their baches. (People “go crazy” washing things, he said, during the two weeks of the year that they live in their holiday homes.)  The Thames-Coromandel Council had an obligation under its resource consent for drawing water from the river not to create an excessive impact on the river system, he said, the implication being that “smart” water meters could help achieve this. Currently there are no water meters in Tairua, he said. “Smart” water meters were considered by the team to be a better option than conventional meters because there was no need to physically access the meter box (such as by prying up the meter box cover) to get a reading, and the potential for human error in reading meters was eliminated by the wireless transmission of data.

We did not discuss what other measures, if any, the Council has trialled to reduce  or better manage water demand at the peak time of year, such, as for example, public education campaigns to promote water conservation and/or promotion of installation of rain water tanks to supplement the town water supply for some applications.  (This was an oversight on my part.)

 

Technical aspects of the “smart” water meters being trialled in Tairua

The young engineer was excited by the results of the trial so far, in which an initial test had shown that the signal from one of the “smart” water meters could be detected 600 metres from the “smart” meter, despite buildings and trees being in the way between the water meter and receiver.

The “smart” meter chosen by the Council for Tairua is the Sappel Altair Concentric V3 meter supplied in NZ by Hynds.  The Council has chosen to use the 434MHz  option for the transmission frequency (which presumably means that the Council engineering team has chosen to team up the meters with the Diehl IZAR RC radio transmitter.)  434 MHz is a public frequency also utilised by some common gadgets such as automatic garage door openers.  However, the manufacturer of the IZAR RC radio transmitter designed to be compatible with Sappel modular meter states that its transmission range is “500 metres, depending on the environment”, so it is obviously much more powerful than a garage door opening gizmo.  (In practice, as above, the transmission range may be longer than the manufacturer’s specifications.)

According to the engineer, the “‘smart” meters chosen will be transmitting every eight seconds.  (The battery life of the for the transmitter is claimed by the manufacturer to be 15 years, without any sort of guarantee that this will actually be the case.) The Council is exploring different ideas for reading the meters, I was told. The trial is using a handheld or drive-by system in which a portable device is used to collect the data from the “smart” water meters as they transmit.  The transmitters on the meters are unidirectional.  One option the Council team is considering for the ongoing collection of data is to have a receiver mounted in the rubbish trucks which make weekly rounds of the towns to collect garbage, thereby eliminating the need for a separate vehicle (or person on foot) to patrol the streets to collect the data.  This is considered an attractive option because it would reduce the cost associated with gathering data from the “smart” meters.

 

Possible implications for privacy if the trial is considered successful

The IZAR transmitters that are compatible with the Sappel meters used in the Tairua trial have the capacity to be used with a fixed “IZAR RECEIVER GPRS/LAN” system which is capable of collecting all the data from “smart” water meters, storing it and then transferring it to a central computer system.  If the Thames-Coromandel District Council were happy with the results of the Tairua trial and chose this option for collection of data from “smart” water meters, this potentially raises privacy concerns, since if the meters transmit data every eight seconds, it should be theoretically possible to use the data to work out patterns of activity in a household, based on patterns of water consumption, in a similar way in which patterns of activity in a household can be inferred from electricity use.  (See the graphic at this link http://www.smartmeterpowerstruggle.wordpress.com/  for an example of how electricity “smart meters” can compromise privacy, and for a discussion of privacy and home security issues please see these links: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/network-tasman-there-are-no-privacy-concerns-with-smart-meters-yeah-right/ and www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/how-smart-meters-can-help-burglars/.)

 

Health implications

About 25% of households and businesses in Tairua have been selected by the Council to participate the in trial.  (The properties chosen have been selected on the basis of ensuring that they represent different types of properties (i.e. permanent residential, holiday homes and business) and different areas of the town.) By contrast, the trial of “smart” water meters in Tauranga was limited to one suburb. (See this link for a discussion of the trial of “smart” water meters in Tauranga: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/smart-water-meters-in-nz-the-situation-so-far/.)

Considering that each “smart” water meter used in the Tairua trial will transmit every eight seconds around the clock for a distance of up to half a kilometre (or possibly more) at the 434MHZ frequency, the “smart” water meter trial in Tairua may represent an experiment in exposure of an entire town to this particular frequency at levels that are unique in the history of NZ.

People who have electrohypersensitivity (EHS)** may be adversely affected by this trial.  Overseas, concern has been raised that exposure to the non-ionising radiation produced by “smart” meters used to measure electricity consumption appears to act as a trigger for the development of EHS in some people. (See: http://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/aaem-wireless-smart-meter-case-studies.pdf )   In NZ, many of the “smart” meters being introduced for electricity are designed to transmit for longer distances (“a few kilometres”), according to the PDF “Smart-Meter-FAQ-Aug11.pdf” on the website of the Electricity Authority, so electricity “smart” meters are obviously more powerful than are “smart” water meters.  Moreover, as the strength of the signal from any “smart” meter declines with distance, “smart” electricity meters which are typically mounted on the wall of a home probably pose more of a risk than “smart” water meters on council property. (Presumably these will be installed in the footpath, as  are the conventional “water” meters in Auckland.)  However, the possibility that “smart” water meters may trigger EHS cannot be ruled out and the longer term effects of living in an area where “smart” waters meters transmit every eight seconds twenty four hours a day must be considered an unknown.

 

Possible outcome of the trial

If the trial is successful, conceivably the Thames-Tairua District Council may choose to introduce “smart” water meters in other towns in its region.

Pe0ple in Tairua (or elsewhere in the  area administered by the Thames-Tairua District Council) who are not happy with the idea of being exposed to additional electromagnetic radiation from “smart” water meters may wish to notify the Council that they do not consent to the installation of a “smart” water meter to measure water consumption at their home or business.  A template that can be personalised may be downloaded from the link below:

FORMAL NOTICE OF NON CONSENT FOR SMART WATER METER

Please share this post with family and friends in this area. 

 

More information on smart water meters in NZ may be found at this post: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/smart-water-meters-in-nz-the-situation-so-far/

 

**Information on electrohypersensitivity may be found at this link: http://www.es-uk.info/

For a personal story which illustrates how difficult a condition EHS is for sufferers to live with, please see this link: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/what-is-it-like-to-live-with-electrohypersensitivity-ehs-one-womans-story/

Health professionals may want to read this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/87308119/Guideline-of-the-Austrian-Medical-Association-for-the-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-EMF-related-health-problems-and-illnesses-EMF-syndrome

“Smart” water meters in NZ: The situation so far

Some NZ local authorities are beginning to investigate using “smart” meters to measure water consumption.

A trial was recently conducted in Tauranga (See: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11106076 and http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/uncategorized/smart-water-meters-being-considered-for-tauranga/), and there was a  trial of “smart” water meters proposed for Raglan* (which according to Council, did not go ahead).  Another trial of “smart” water meters is due to begin in Tairua, on the Coromandel Peninsula, in May 2014.  According to the Thames-Coromandel Council website about a quarter of the homes and businesses in Tairua will have their existing analogue meters replaced with “smart meters” as part of the trial.

The Thames-Coromandel Council has put very little information about the specifics of the trial on its website, in terms of information about the meters and their capabilities.

Information obtained under the Official Information Act regarding the Tauranga trial has shown that the meters trialled (Sappel IZAR CP R3.5  868 MHz) use a battery to produce a radiofrequency pulse every eight seconds. While the meters are battery powered which means that the pulse will likely be lower power than emissions from the “smart meters” being introduced for electricity, the “smart” water meters trialled in Tauranga transmit at 868MHz while electricity “smart meters” in NZ typically use the 900MHz or 1800MHz frequency brands, according to the NZ Electricity Authorrty.) The Tauranga trial tested the function of the meters in transmitting to a hand-held or drive-by receiver.

Technical specs for the Sappel IZAR CP R3.5 meter indicate that its transmission range is up to 500 metres “depending on the environment”.  While the trial in Tauranga assessed a system where data was collected by a hand-held device or a device in a vehicle being driven down the road, the type of meter tested is compatible with a fixed “IZAR RECEIVER GPRS/LAN” system which is capable of collecting all the data from the meters, storing it and then transferring it to a central computer system.  This potentially raises privacy concerns, since if the meters transmit data every eight seconds, it should be theoretically possible to use the data to work out patterns of activity in a household, based on patterns of water consumption, in a similar way in which patterns of activity in a household can be inferred from electricity use.  (See the graphic at this link http://www.smartmeterpowerstruggle.wordpress.com/  for an example of how electricity “smart meters” can compromise privacy, and for a discussion of privacy and home security issues please see these links: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/network-tasman-there-are-no-privacy-concerns-with-smart-meters-yeah-right/ and www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/how-smart-meters-can-help-burglars/.)

The French multinational company Veolia has the contract to supply water services for the Thames-Coromandel Council.  It seems likely that if the trial in Tairua is successful “smart” water meters could be rolled out in Tairua and other towns in the Coromandel area.

Regardless of the technical specifications of the meters in the Tairua trial, the trial will increase the ambient level of radiofrequency radiation in the town (which would increase still further should the council decide to allow “smart” water meters to be installed in the entire town.)  The trial (and any eventual roll-out of the “smart” water meters in the town) could adversely affect people who are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, such as those who have EHS.  (For an example of what it is like to live with EHS, please see this link: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/what-is-it-like-to-live-with-electrohypersensitivity-ehs-one-womans-story/

If you are in Tairua and do not want a “smart” water meter monitoring water use at your home or business, an email to the Council refusing consent for entry to your property for the purposes of removal of  your analogue meter may be a good first step.  You may also want to state that you do not consent to radiofrequency radiation to be broadcast over your property by your water provider, including to or from any of your neighbour’s properties.

 

 

*According to www.stuff.co.nz: “In September last year, Mr Ninnes briefed Mr Allen on WEL Networks’ progress rolling out its electricity smart meter technology, and expectations that every property in Hamilton will be connected to the company’s new network through a fully functioning WEL Networks smart box by the middle of this year.

“Mr Ninnes then told Mr Allen he had just brought together a specialist team to develop a smart water meter “proof of concept” to demonstrate the smart boxes could also support water meters, feeding information directly to WEL.

“He discussed a small field trial of smart water meters connected to Raglan properties already hooked up to WEL Networks’ completed smart network.”

 

SOURCE: http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/9282623/Water-meters-may-be-closer-than-you-think

 

Is the WEL “smart box” a way to facilitate “smart” water metering?

A 2013 article in the Waikato Times suggests that one reason for  the introduction of WEL’s “smart boxes” may be to facilitate “smart” water meters in the Hamilton and Waikato area.  Leaving aside the potential health concerns with “smart boxes” and “smart” water meters, introduction of  water metering is controversial in Hamilton, due to people’s concerns that it will increase costs.  In cities where water meters have been introduced, such as Auckland, water bills may be $80 per month for a family of four – in addition to rates, adding to the cost of living.

According to the Waikato Times:

“In September last year, Mr Ninnes briefed Mr Allen on WEL Networks’ progress rolling out its electricity smart meter technology, and expectations that every property in Hamilton will be connected to the company’s new network through a fully functioning WEL Networks smart box by the middle of this year.

“Mr Ninnes then told Mr Allen he had just brought together a specialist team to develop a smart water meter “proof of concept” to demonstrate the smart boxes could also support water meters, feeding information directly to WEL.

“He discussed a small field trial of smart water meters connected to Raglan properties already hooked up to WEL Networks’ completed smart network.” http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/9282623/Water-meters-may-be-closer-than-you-think

(Site editor’s note:  I have since made enquiries about this trial with Waikato District Council and was advised that the trial did not take place.)

If you are in the WEL area, and do not want to have the additional exposure to the radiofrequency radiation produced by a WEL “smart box” you are within your rights to refuse the installation of a WEL “smart box”.  For an example of a letter that prevent a WEL “smart box” installation, please see this link: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/uncategorized/wel-smart-box-installation-prevented/

For a general discussion of “smart” water metering in NZ, please see this link:  http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/smart-water-meters-in-nz-the-situation-so-far/

“Smart water meters” being considered for Tauranga

The Bay of Plenty Times has reported that “smart water meters” are being considered for Tauranga. According to the article the new technology could be in use within two years and”involves  the remote activation of a radio signal from a transponder attached to the meter.

The putative “benefit” to residents is that  “that the householder can set a limit on how much they want to pay for water so that when the figure is exceeded, it triggers an alarm.”

There is already a limited trial of “smart meters” for water occurring in Tauranga, according to the article.

Full details are at this link:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11106076