In the third installment of our staff coverage on smart meters (one and two), our resident wellness expert, Maureen Hoff addresses the question of whether or not smart meters adversely affect the health of the people who live with them. As part of our team effort to provide consistency in blog posting, Maureen is taking on the weekly post, 'Wellness Wednesday' where she will show the connection between energy, the environment and your personal wellness.
Maureen has been with the SJVCEO for two and a half years serving as the project coordinator for our VIEW local government partnership, master of ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and all-around 'girl Friday' for the organization. Maureen wholeheartedly embraces the SJVCEO efforts "to provide a better quality of life for residents of the San Joaquin Valley" in her personal life as well. When she's not working with our cities and counties, Maureen is the proprietor of Wild Ginger Wellness and works as a personal health coach helping people reach their goals and improve their quality of life. Maureen holds a bachelors degree in cultural anthropology with a minor in exercise and health science from the University of California, Santa Barbara and has studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. Smart Meters and Radio Frequency
Utility companies around the globe, and even in our very own Central Valley, have been switching customers over to ‘smart meters’ in order to prevent their poor meter-reading employees from having to tromp through bushes and run from dogs--well, maybe that is a bit of a simplified explanation. A smart meter is a two-way communication device that allows utilities and their customers to better track energy usage. You may have heard a favorite saying over here at the SJVCEO is ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ and we love the smart meter because it puts the power in the customer's hands.
Between 2009 and 2012, our friends at Southern California Edison (SCE) will have deployed approximately 5 million of their SmartConnect meters. Customers will have the ability to log into their online account and track energy usage by the hour. Yep. I would say that’s pretty smart! The majority of customers’ concerns with smart meters typically surround privacy issues; however,some have questioned possible health risks associated with these two-way devices emitting radio frequency (RF) signals. RF signals are categorized as a non-ionizing form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum. In a nutshell, this means that RF signals do not emit enough energy to alter the chemical structure of an atom and are generally safe, despite the fact that they are strong enough to cause increased temperature in body tissue. If the intensity of a non-ionizing form of radiation is strong enough, however, it can become ionizing. Ionizing radiation, which occurs naturally and from man-made activities (think nuclear), produces toxic free radicals which can severely damage body tissue and even cause death.
When it comes to SmartConnect, SCE says that ‘a person’s exposure to RF signals depends on three factors: the signal strength, the distance from the device, and how often it transmits’. The good news is that the meters have a low signal strength, will most likely be installed in a location around your home or small business that isn’t too close to where you spend much time, and only transmit a signal for a few minutes each hour. In my opinion, when compared to a device such as a cell phone, smart meters don’t look like much of a health risk at all; but, if you are like me then you will still want to go to all lengths to protect yourself and your family from even the slightest risk. And that is when I turn to the diet.
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in foods that assist in protecting and repairing damaged cells. Eating a colorful diet full of fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, healthy fats/oils, and lean protein can help combat exposure to free radicals from radiation. Foods like dark, leafy greens; berries; avocados; good quality olive oil; and even chocolate in its raw state (cacao) can help protect our bodies from environmental toxins. I like to say ‘control the controllables’. Watch what you put in your mouth, get a little exericse every day, and let your utility company install a smart meter. After all, if you decrease your energy use you are helping to decrease greenhouse gas emissions which means cleaner air, which means better health.
It wasn't all that long ago that California's Central Valley erupted in a fervor. Not quite as monumental as the Arab Spring, but intense...for California. And what was at the heart of this movement, this act of rebellion? Class warfare? Ineffective government? Double digit unemployment? Nope. It was this guy on the right.
The PG&E SmartMeter roll out in Bakersfield, California has been called a text book case on how not to roll out a smart meter installation campaign. Lois Henry, over at the Bakersfield Californian has spent the last four years covering the brouhaha in great detail. But I'm here to tell you a different story--a story of love. I'm here to tell you about my love affair with my SmartMeter.
Yup, Believe it or not, I live in central California and I LOVE MY SMARTMETER!
Over the top? No, not once you understand our journey. SmartMeter came to our house quietly in 2009. I remember the "while you were out" notice on the door, and walking around the side of the house to say hi, but that's about it. It wasn't love at first site. Around the same time I had my head down and was working many late nights trying to learn my way through the energy industry and SJVCEO was still trying to find its place. It wasn't until 2010 when I took over as the lead on the VIEW Partnership and fell into the rabbit hole that is energy benchmarking I started thinking more about my own energy use. I wondered if I couldn't learn how to better serve our local governments through better understanding the way I used energy.
SmartMeter allowed me to see how I used my energy throughout the day. I could log on to my PG&E account (before the launch of My Energy) and pull a graph from the day before. It looked something like this:
Okay, that's a graph from My Energy, but with the exception of the pretty colors the content is the same. This was eye opening! I could watch my habits throughout the day. That spike at 7:00 a.m.? That's when I couldn't handle a blow dryer, curling iron and a house at 78 degrees and cranked the AC down to 74. You'll notice it decreases after 8:00 a.m. when likely my husband woke up freezing and returned the thermostat to 79 (where he likes to diligently keep it). I could see Ryan (husband) and Dutch (Saint Bernard) warm up as the day progressed; as the the temperature crept up to 110 degrees so did our energy use. And, back in these days things like laundry and dishwashers ran during the day so we didn't have to worry about chores eating in to our "us time". Well, we learned to adapt.
I realized that we could just as easily run the dishwater overnight, despite that it annoys Dutch to no end, and do the laundry in the mornings. I also learned to wear my hair in a ponytail much more frequently in the summer months so I didn't have to worry about the heat of styling, which kept the AC off until after noon. Oh, and those spikes at the end of the day? That's me again. I hate sleeping in a hot house so I would turn the temperature down to go to sleep. I had to give up the compulsion to sleep under a blanket no matter the season. It was hard, but I've survived. And, my power bill went down. A lot.
Comparing August 2009 to August 2010 we had fewer peaks and less time in the 5 kWh+ zone, and a bill that was more than $100 less than the previous year. Woo hoo!
That was my Koolaid; that's when I became and energy efficiency evangelist.
I realized it wasn't retrofits (although some serious insulation helped), but behavior modification that made the biggest difference. And so it became my mission to integrate behavior modification recommendations in all our SJVCEO work. My SmartMeter, and what I was able to learn and appreciate gave me a story that I could share and relate to the work that we were doing in the Valley. Why benchmark thousands of municipal energy accounts (poor Maureen)? Because, seeing your energy habits sitting right next to cost makes a heck of an impression. It also lets you see what you're doing right and not-so-right. Now, I could tell a city, "hey, your office facilities are using almost as much energy at night as they are in the day. Maybe we should take a look at what your staff is doing." But that usually elicits a "sure, let's look at it next quarter." Now, if I have my laptop I can log in to the city's Portfolio Manager account and say, "See your use and how much it's costing you at City Hall? That's more than twice the national average for a similar space. Why don't we take a look and see if we can't get this bill lower than $16,000 per month." Then I'm more likely to get someone to escort me through the building after hours and see that office lights and nonessential machines are let on, and that the A/C is still kicking away at the government building standard--just short of Arctic! That knowledge can lead to an education campaign to get employees to shut down at night, and perhaps even designates a person to make sure the A/C is turned up to keep the space controlled, but not freezing. Say these simple steps, these behavior modifications end up saving a city $1,000 per month? Maybe more? That's why we benchmark thousands of municipal energy accounts (still, poor Maureen).
So yeah, I love my SmartMeter, but the problem is not everyone has a SmartMeter--or an intelligent metering system. Not even the everyone in the San Joaquin Valley has one...but that's about to change!
As mentioned in my ode to Carl and Eddy Southern California Edison's SmartConnect is coming to town! This means that those residential and small business customers in our VIEW Partnership and beyond (Armona, California Hot Springs, Camp Nelson, Delano, Ducor, Earlimart, Goshen, Hanford, Ivanhow, Lemon Cove, Lindsay, McFarland, Pixley, Porterville, Springville, Strathmore, Terra Bella, Three Rivers, Tipton, Tulare, Tule River Indian Reservation, and Woodlake) are going to be able to track their energy use electronically and we don't have to do anything (yay for Maureen!).
At SJVCEO (even beyond my desk) we're pretty excited about SmartConnect, so we're going to take a team approach to sharing the enthusiasm with the blogosphere. On Wednesday, October 3 Maureen's Wellness Wednesday will address the question of intelligent meters and radio frequency, and on October 8th Dee's Money Monday will address how SmartConnect can help small businesses and residents invest wisely in energy efficiency. I may even pull together another BION, but we'll have to see how October goes! And because no one wants a Friday blog with out a couple of talking houses, here are my buddies, Carl and Eddy! This time Carl gets the drop on Eddy and has to breakdown the super cool online tools that work with SmartConnect--darn, I gave it away!
Alright, it's no secret around the SJVCEO offices that I love me some Carl and Eddy. I always insist on Carl and Eddy posters for our community events, I've included C&E in a quarterly report to my board, and I may have tweeted about these guys once or twice.
Really--I think they're great! What, you don't believe me? How about now?
What if I told you I make the rest of team SJVCEO live over in Carl? (what can I say, I like my space)
Carl and Eddy were a stroke of genius; somewhere, someone very smart said, "I bet people would listen more if the message came from talking houses." Well, perhaps it wasn't quite like that, but Carl and Eddy get the job done. Market research on these two showed that their fans had an 85% recall rate on the information in the videos. They're so effective that SCE received a Buildy Award for "Customer-Focused Innovation" for the series. It turns out that I'm not the only one who's fallen hard for these two talking houses.
So, what is my favorite rap session with these guys? Oh, I'm partial to "I got the power"
Of course, that shows a bit of nostalgia on my part because "I got the power" was my first Carl and Eddy video way back in 2010. At the time I thought, "well guys, that's nice, but you're still living south of the Grapevine. Call me when you get to the Valley". Good news: they're here!
I learned this when a news release from SCE crossed my desk last week announcing that SmartConnnect is coming to the San Joaquin Valley. Here are the highlights, just in case you don't want to click through:
Communities set for installation include: Armona, California Hot Springs, Camp Nelsone, Delano, Ducor, Earlimart, Goshen, Hanford, Ivanhoe, Lemon Cove, Lindsay, McFarland, Pixley, Porterville, Springville, Strathmore, Terra Bella, Three Rivers, Tipton, Tulare, Tule River Indian Reservation and Woodlake.
In a statement, Ken Devore, director of SCE's Edison SmartConnect program said, "Smart meters will empower our customers to become better managers of their electricity usage through new tools, programs and services that will help them save energy and money, and help protect the environment." Whoa, whoa, whoa--hold the phone, Mr. Devore! Customers managing their electricity? That is what we at the SJVCEO love to hear! In fact, we live and breath by the adage, "you can't manage what you can't measure." Intelligent metering, by design, will allow the average homeowner to acurately, and in real time see the measure of their energy use and with that information make informed choices about how they want to use their energy. Whether by savings for that extra day of AC when it hits 106 degrees, or deploying no-cost conservation tricks around the house to make sure the energy bill stays within budget. Smart metering allows all of us to make smart choices, and it puts the power in our hands.
My good friend Eddy says he's got the power, but I hate to break to you Eddy--with SmartConnect, we all have the power!