Comparing analogue (Ferraris) meters with smart meters which have had the modem removed

Traditionally, in NZ as around the world, electricity meters have been purely electromechanical devices that did not contain any sort of electronics.  Until recently, most NZ homes had the type of analogue meters known as “Ferraris” meters.  That began to change a few years ago when companies began to install electronic smart meters which produce radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in the microwave range to transmit information about electricity use.

Currently, when people in NZ tell their electricity company that they do not want a smart meter, or want an existing smart meter removed, the first option offered by many electricity companies is for the modem (which produces the RFR) to be removed from the smart meter, rather than for the entire smart meter to be removed and replace with a non-smart meter.

There are a variety of alternatives to smart meters  in use in NZ including the Itron ACE 1000 SMO meter – which is an electronic meter with an analogue barrel display* – and  analogue (purely electromechanical meters otherwise know as “Ferraris” meters).

People who want a purely electromechanical meter (a Ferraris meter) are often told that these meters are no longer available on the NZ market by their electricity retailer, however, this is not true.  You can see at  the appropriate page of the company Legacy Metering Group that there are still purely electromechanical (Ferraris) meters available in NZ. (Please click HERE to be directed to the appropriate page of Legacy Metering Group’s website. The Ferraris meter is the one with the spinning disc.)

Electricity companies frequently make claims to the effect that removing the modem from a smart meter makes it into a normal meter.

The purpose of this post is to discuss the differences between a traditional analogue (Ferraris) meter and a smart meter which has had its modem removed.

Basic facts about a Ferraris analogue meter

In terms of its functionality, a Ferraris meter simply measures electricity use and this use can be read from the mechanical register by a home owner or meter reader and this information supplied to the electricity company so that the household or business can be billed correctly.  Ferraris meters have no electronics and therefore no ability to store data.

In terms of the health risks, it is important to keep beds and other furniture where you may spend a considerable amount of time at least one metre away from a Ferraris meter (and preferably 2-3 metres) due to the high magnetic fields in close proximity to the meter.  The meter works by creating two opposing magnetic fields which then drive the disk depending on power usage.  Other than the high magnetic fields from the household wiring and the metering coils, the Ferraris meter has no health risks.

A Ferraris meter cannot produce radiofrequency radiation (RFR),  and as it does not have any switch mode power supply or any other electronics, it cannot produce high frequencies or transients known as “dirty electricty” (DE).  (For a discussion of the health issues with the RFR and DE please see this page.)

 How a smart meter which has had its modem removed differs from a Ferraris meter

Some* (but not all) smart meters on the NZ market had a removable modem (also known as a “chip” or occasionally “network interface card” or the “comms” device within a smart meter ).

The modem is responsible for sending information about electricity use back to the electricity company and/or lines company at about the 900 MHz frequency for meters connected through the cellular network. Removing the modem prevents the smart meter from being able to transmit data wirelessly, and in most cases will stop the smart meter from producing the RFR that poses health risks.

However, some smart meters in NZ also contain ZigBee chips or modems which also create radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in the 2.4 GHz frequency range.  (The purpose of a ZigBee is to communicate with any smart appliances that are in a home.) In some smart meters, such as the Landis+Gyr E350 series in which a “silver springs” network interface card has been fitted, the main modem and ZigBee chip are part of the same network interface card, so removing the network interface card will solve the problem of the RFR from both sources.  In other smart meters, such as the EDMI Mk7A, there is apparently an option for a ZigBee chip; however, it is my understanding that most smart meters in NZ currently do not have a ZigBee chip included.

Regardless, in order to prevent a smart meter from producing RFR, the modem must be removed or disconnected, and any ZigBee chip (if separate from the modem/network interface card) should also be removed as well.

A smart meter with its modem removed may still produce dirty electricity (DE). NB: Any meter with electronic components may produce DE – Please see this page for details on DE and health: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/health-issues/

One slight advantage of an electronic meter over a Ferraris meter is that there could be slightly lower magnetic fields, but this is not a good enough reason to recommend an electronic meter over a Ferraris meter.

Smart meters (with or without their modem) and electricity bills

Another issue that is also of interest is the possible increase in electricity charge that is often noticed when an electronic meter is installed.  The older style Ferraris meters, due to the way it measures current flow by the two opposing magnetic fields, is reasonably slow reacting to surges of power use.  A surge or inrush of current is common when an appliance is turned on, particularly if it has a motor.  The electronic meter on the other hand very accurately measures these very brief surges of high power consumption that were not normally registered in the older Ferraris meter and this can lead to significantly higher billing, often 20% or more.  It is debatable whether this extra billing is fair as it can be a considerable increase in billing for no increase in actual usage.  Also, the so called “energy saving” appliances and lights that we are being encouraged to use may actually have higher inrush currents and increased billing over older appliances, increasing the billing even further.

Removing the modem from a smart meter will not change how it measures electricity or decrease your bill if your bill went up after the smart meter was installed.

Smart meters have the capacity to measure reactive power as well as usable electricity and if reactive power (which is useless to the consumer) is added to the bill, the bill would rise without any change in  electricity consumption.  I do not know whether any domestic customers are currently being billed for reactive power in NZ. Hopefully changes in billing transparency should prevent companies from charging for non-usable reactive power, if any NZ companies are presently doing this.

Having a smart meter that has had its modem removed may also leave your vulnerable to Time Of Use (TOU) pricing, should your electricity company choose to institute this, because the smart meter can store data at regular intervals and this data can be used to charge different rates for electricity used at different times of the day. 

In practice TOU pricing is likely to mean you would have to pay more for electricity when you most need it, for example on winter evenings when you want to turn on the heater and have a hot meal – and perhaps also a hot shower if you arrive home wet from a walk back from the bus or train station.)  Most companies in NZ do not currently use TOU pricing but more are likely to institute TOU pricing in the future. (Please see this link for details about how Time Of Use (TOU) pricing may increase your power bill: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/the-advantages-of-smart-meters/

and

http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/what-is-time-of-use-tou-pricing-and-how-could-it-affect-you/)

Analogue (Ferraris ) meters and those brands of  electronic meters which DO NOT have not capacity to store data provide protection against Time Of Use Pricing being inflicted on consumers.

 

Smart meters (with or without their modem) and your privacy

Smart meters which have had their modems removed may still pose privacy concerns. Please see this link for details:  www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/network-tasman-there-are-no-privacy-concerns-with-smart-meters-yeah-right/

 

Conclusion

If you value your health, privacy and financial well-being, a Ferraris meter is the best sort of electricity meter.

However if you are having difficulty getting your electricity company to agree to remove your smart meter, accepting the offer of the removal of the modem (plus any ZigBee chip it may contain) from the smart meter will reduce the health risks from a smart meter as the meter will no longer produce pulses of microwave radiation.

If you want the modem removed from your smart meter, you may want to follow the following steps:

1) Find out if your smart meter contains a ZigBee as well as a smart meter.  (It is best to do this in writing as people in the contact centres of electricity companies frequently know nothing about the technical aspects of smart meters and may inadvertently give you incorrect advice if you phone your company.)

2) Organise to be present when the technician calls at your home to ensure the job is done properly.[1]

3) Get an agreement in writing that the modem (and any ZigBEE chip) will be removed and will not be replaced.

4) Put a lock on the meter box after the modem has been removed to prevent it from being reinstalled. [2]

 

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*Meters on the NZ market which can have a removable modem include EDMI series meters, Landis+Gyr E350 series smart meters and General Electric (GE) SM110. To the best of my knowledge, the Elster gREX meter CANNOT have its modem removed.

 

[1] I have not heard of cases where this has not been done properly but I have received reports of contractors installing smart meters against home owners/occupiers express permission so I think it prudent for people who want the modem to be disconnected and/or removed to be present to witness that this has actually been done.

[2] I have not heard of any confirmed cases in which modems have been replaced without customers’ permission but the standard Terms and Conditions on some NZ companies’ websites include statements to the effect that companies can install smart meters or remote meter reading equipment.  Possibly these may allow a company to re-install the modem without consulting you unless you have an agreement that the company will not do this.  (Please note that I am not a lawyer;  you may want to ask your lawyer about the standard Terms and Conditions for  your company if you want a qualified opinion on this matter.)

Locking your meter box also protects you have from having the modem re-installed by another party (such as the smart meter owner, which is often a different company from the electricity retailer) if the meter owner or its agents is unaware of the agreement you have with your electricity company.

If you lock your meter box and there is no window to allow a meter reader to read your meter, you may need to make an agreement with your company that you will phone in or email meter readings to your company on a regular basis.  You could offer to include a photo of the meter (as proof that you are providing an accurate reading) if you have a digital camera and can email or otherwise send this image to your electricity company.

 

 

An electrical engineer’s perspective on “smart meters”

Comment: As a retired Electrical Test and Diagnostic Engineer of Taupo I have had the experience to make an informed prognosis of all that has been said against the introduction of digital Smart Meters. What has been mentioned is the increased costs associated with installing these type of S M by replacing the Analogue meters.My research shows that the increases will all be above a 20% increase from previous billings. Because almost every supply is indirectly connected to Windfarm Asynchronous Generators or Induction Generators. Many people and engineers will be surprised by my next statement.These type of generators standing alone by themselves can never produce any electrical output. They, when connected to the grid system can only modify the perfectly produced sine wave powered from conventional Synchronous Alternators and pollute the whole system with large amounts of harmonically distorted power.

Because of this pollution into the system wiring they develop an illegal form of T H D (total harmonic distortion).What the Smart meters can an do very efficiently is totalises up all these extra frequencies up to the 20th harmonic and produces a greatly inflated bill for power that you cannot utilise and invariable produced illegally above the Standard 5% threshold.The revolving Analogue Meter absorbs these and do not speed up to increase the billed amount. There are other technical problems but for just this point of R F I another point is that once a group of these meters are installed within close knit communities they can be likened to a machine gun firing indiscriminately affectively within a 400 metre radius whilst the use of a cellphone is on a at call basis.There are many aspects of this subject that i could enlarge on particularly in the Spot Marketing of pricing that Smart Meters utilise.

The Stop Smart Meters campaign that you have undertaken is very fraught with high risks to you and others associated to enlighten the common citizen to health risks. Our personal rights are being abraded across many frontiers for the collection of large financial rewards within our own government and big corporations. From my point of view and at my age of 73 I will happily assist in any way I can. My input has been via the old New Zealand State Hydro . Then new Zealand Electrocorp. Then Taupo Electricity as Systems Test Engineer controlling all facets of Generation Distribution . And Metering disciplines. I cannot verify any health examples as an experience but in other areas it is well within my grasp.

The Smart Meter Roll Out in New Zealand is utilizing the improved Technology that is available as part of the advancement of mankind. There is some upsides and down sides depending where your priorities lay.
With out doubt a new generation of problems become exposed and in this case  R F I  (Radio Frequency Interference) developing serious health issues all within the confines of every persons home. This development has a pioneering complexity that requires addressing and solving safely and expeditiously to all concerned.

With the health issues aside the use of the Smart Meter Technology is claimed to have many benefits to the consumer, retailer and the country as a whole by better utilizing resources and decreasing our carbon imprint.
In New Zealand nothing could be further from the truth. What every consumer will notice immediately with out any doubt is the increase of their Billing Costs over the old Analogue meter billing. If you suffered from R F I health issues then this costing gain will create other ongoing health issues.

New Zealand has now over the last 15 years produced DIRTY power with the advent and increased use of Asyncronous Type Generators into our Grid System  in the form of Wind Farms and the use of Induction Generators using Geothermal energy. These are basically a 3 phase type motor operated above synchronous speed.

I personally would offer $1000 to the N Z Windfarm  affiliates that any of these units cannot produce one kilowatt of power standing isolated on their own or to supply all year round power to one home.The advertising programs state they can supply cities .This is a grossly false statement and needs correcting.

When they are electrically connected to the grid distributing wiring they can only modify the existing perfectly produced sine wave from Hydro and Steam stations by distorting it with multiples of harmonic power which radiates to the consumers dwelling. This in turn produces and develops T H D (total harmonic distortion ) waves that become impressed into the Smart Meter Digital electronics. This very cleverly disseminates each harmonic wave up to the 50th harmonic of power and totals the lot to the billing stage. This then becomes murky. What every consumer is paying for is power they don’t want or can not utilize and have no redress above the legal 5%.that is allowed within the power grid system. There are other interesting issues. But for the consumer whether a industrial commercial or domestic customer they will on the average pay between 10-30% more for their power than they need to and that is what the very corrupt Electricity Marketing Fee collect from every bill illegally between 0.3 and 0.6 cents per unit.

So it is imperative to hold onto  your Analogue rotating meter as these will absorb these harmonics to generally slow down.

Much is made of the gains to the national power grid by the use of these Smart Meters in allowing the customer to have the choice of selecting periods of power usage during Off peak thus saving money and to not stress the system when  needed  This is factually an untruth. What thinking people know is that N Z  lies in a geographically North South direction and we have only one time zone across the whole country. As a consequent to that we have a morning peak and a night  peak to which the power generators wish to supply through the Spot Market board ( M A R I A ) at a given price option as it is the lucrative part of their business. This generally covers only 6 hours out of 24 which in its self creates poor Load Factors and inefficiencies. The Generation cartels have Locked up the Marketing board by removing any competion within themselves by forcing acceptance of the Highest Marginal Cost Offered and that is the cost of new Generation to come onto line  The power that is offered is every half hour slot and there are 17,520 of them over a year.

What this means is there is no competition what so ever as all the Retailers are being supplied from the same pot at the same time at the same price. And to compare with other systems around the world to gain acceptance to some remote point is a publicity exercise only.

I have mentioned that the harmonics that is allowed onto the system has to be within the 5% margin or else you are penalised through the courts . If you are a customer that generate these harmonics the fines are quite high laid down by the Commerce Commission . They have abrogated their Authority by not monitoring or prosecuting any of the Generators who pollute the system to my knowledge. I also believe that a T V Fair Go exposure that should force the government to repay all the customers that section of the Marketing Fee that has been collected illegally.
But I wont hold my breath.

[Name supplied]

(Note from website coordinator:  All correspondence received through the Contact form on this site is treated in confidence.  Comments are posted on this site only with the permission of their author.   The site coordinator does not have any financial interest in any electricity company.)