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/
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/
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.
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. 
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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.
 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.
 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.