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Smart Meters Wreaking Havoc With Home Electronics 375

Posted by samzenpus
from the learn-to-play-nice dept.
wiredmikey writes "About 200 customers of the Central Maine Power Company recently noticed something odd after the utility installed smart meters in their homes: household electronics, including wireless devices, stopped working, or behaved erratically. Many Smart Meters broadcast in the 2.4GHz frequency range. Unfortunately, so do many of the consumer gadgets we take for granted these days including routers, electric garage doors, fire alarms, clocks, electric pet fences, answering machines, and baby monitors — even medical devices. The electromagnetic congestion in the home is in some ways similar to the growing electronic congestion in hospitals as they acquire more and more electronic monitors all operating within a few feet of each other. Medical equipment has been known to shut down or give erroneous results when positioned close to another piece of equipment. Such interference is not new, just getting worse — rapidly."
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Smart Meters Wreaking Havoc With Home Electronics

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  • Other stuff is OK (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:27AM (#38156596)
    but what are clocks and answering machines using wireless for?
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      TFA seems to be confused. Clocks use low frequency signals to set the time automatically, most commonly 60KHz or 77KHz. Answering machines are presumably built in to wireless phone base stations, so really it is only the handsets that need 2.4GHz to work.

  • by lostsoulz (1631651) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:29AM (#38156606)

    Most utilities are moving to smart meters. It's a technological nirvana propounded by PHBs and the companies selling the crap. Just think, you don't need to waste hard cash on people actually reading meters. Hell no, you can drive down a road and read all the meters with a laptop. Except you can't because some of the technology is immature and signal strength from these devices seldom reaches the manufacturers claims.

    We were told by a manufacturer that their technology was secure because their software is proprietry. It's a recipe for disaster...especially given that a quick google for "security research smart meter," returns some interesting results. Welcome to the brave new world of smart metering. Minus the "smart."

    • by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:05AM (#38156768)

      According to TFA, the smart meters will do more than that. They are intended in the medium term to allow power control within the house. So that the meter can signal to, say, the freezer that power demand is particularly high, and if it could hold off consuming power for a while it would be appreciated. And if you have electric cars, could they not charge at peak times, but turn on quickly as the peak subsides rather than doing it on a crude timer (or, in the most optimistic scenario, turn around and return power to the grid at extreme peaks).. In principle, this could save trillions in new power stations and power distribution.

      • by mrbester (200927)
        Any device that decides it can dictate when something that requires to be on continuously like a freezer should turn off will end up a twisted lump of trash in the street. I'd rather pay the extra couple of cents than risk food poisoning.
        • by sFurbo (1361249) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:23AM (#38157746)
          A freezer doesn't need to be on continously. In case of power outage, it takes a couple of days before the food in a full freezer starts to thaw. Now, of course, you don't want it to go anywhere near that, but waiting a couple of hours to turn on the compressor normally won't take the food out of the safe temperature zone. As the GGP put it, the smart meter wont demand that the freezer turns off, but will let it know that it would be appreciated if it did not turn on. The freezer can then decide whether it can wait, or whether it is so hot that it needs to turn on.
      • What a great application for IP over power lines!

        I still don't understand what they want wireless to. Unless they wan't my freezer to be controlled by my neighbor.

        • by Dan Ost (415913) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:30AM (#38157798)

          IP over power lines is a horrible idea! The noise it creates across multiple bands is, quite frankly, illegal. Vendors made promises about keeping the noise within certain limits and they failed across the board. That's why IP over power lines is almost completely gone now.

          The sad thing is that it took the HAMs pointing out the violations to get the authorities to act.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Actually there are very good reasons for having a smart meter, reasons that are not only for the utility company's benefit.

      The place I work creates products for detecting leaks in pipes. We are currently looking at decides that interface with smart water meters to detect leaks inside people's homes. You could have a leak and not know about it if it is small, or if you happened to be away when it started. One not uncommon scenario is for people to go on a winter holiday and come back to find that a pipe froz

  • by Genda (560240) <marietNO@SPAMgot.net> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:30AM (#38156612) Journal

    If I have a smart meter I could come home to my dog roasting away under the smoldering remains of his electric dog collar???

    Or Grampa break dancing because his pacemaker is trying to tap out the digits of the last hours power consumption???

    Eeeeewwwww!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Daily Mail readers quickly make themselves known.

  • Try it, bitches.
    • Re:Shielding (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Neil Boekend (1854906) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:10AM (#38156784)
      Shielding doesn't work if the device needs an antenna to function. Wireless devices need their antenna's. These devices work on the same frequencies as wireless/bluetooth/micowaves/dect/alarms.
      "POE. Try it, bitches" would have been more appropriate. Assuming the transformers allow high frequency signals to pass, a relatively high power/low frequency/low bandwith (The supplier doesn't need to check your usage more frequently than once a year, multiplied by the amount of data (1K would easily be enough) multiplied by the amount of subscribers in the area) POE communications channel would let them check all the houses without driving a car through the neighbourhood at all.
  • Why wireless???? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by captainpanic (1173915) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:40AM (#38156650)

    Smart meters control the power going to electrical devices... logically, these are part of the electric grid, and are connected to powerlines. Why not add another wire to carry the signal, if you need to build a bunch of powerlines anyway?

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Better yet, why not use the powerlines themselves.

      • by Beriaru (954082)
        Yeah, in Spain all the new meters have PLC implemented.
      • by reboot246 (623534)
        Electric meters are not the only meters being read by wireless. More and more gas meters are remotely read, and there isn't a wired option.

        Utility companies like reading meters from a distance because of the hassle customers give the meter readers. Biting dogs, locked gates, high fences, holly bushes, flower beds, all kinds of crap on the meter, etc., etc. are a PITA for meter readers.

        I'm not a meter reader. I check your gas service and meter for leaks. If I can't get to it because of a locked gate or a vi
        • by Smallpond (221300)

          Electric meters are not the only meters being read by wireless. More and more gas meters are remotely read, and there isn't a wired option.

          Utility companies like reading meters from a distance because of the hassle customers give the meter readers. Biting dogs, locked gates, high fences, holly bushes, flower beds, all kinds of crap on the meter, etc., etc. are a PITA for meter readers.

          I'm not a meter reader. I check your gas service and meter for leaks. If I can't get to it because of a locked gate or a vicious dog, then you're on your own. I just write down why I can't check it and go on my merry way. See you in five years . . . . if you haven't blown up.

          Ultrasound in water pipes, maybe the same in gas pipes. Then just have one collection point for 4-5 houses. Still no reason to have wireless.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Better yet, why not use the powerlines themselves.

        Because BPL causes radio interference.

    • You don't even need another wire, just a simple modem/filter at the node.

    • Re:Why wireless???? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zocalo (252965) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:49AM (#38156704) Homepage
      There are typically two parts to the meter. One that clips to the electrical powerline(s) near to where they come into the premises and another that displays the realtime power consumption. Since the former is typically in a closet and the latter placed somewhere it can be seen, there may be some distance between the two. That potentially makes running a cable a less than ideal solution, so the default solution seems to be to just go with wireless.
    • Probably more expensive in every measurable way.
    • Because the existing power lines are burried under roads and hang from poles. Retrofitting would be expensive. You can send data over power lines with some signal proessing trickery, but that brings it's own EMI and licencing issues, and isn't that reliable. Power is noisy.
    • by JanneM (7445)

      We have direct-read meters in our condo. They're connected to a fiber net running throughout the building. The door cameras and intercom, water and gas meters and the fire alarm all use the same fiber. As a bonus, since they ran more fiber than the utility stuff uses, this also gives us very cheap fiber broadband. It's behind a building-wide router so I can forget about having a server or anything, but it's still a high-speed connection at a pittance.

  • Why, just why!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BenJury (977929) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:43AM (#38156660)

    Why do 'smart' meters need to broadcast anything? If they're planning on using these things to communicate to high power devices, or any electrical device, the damn things are already wired together. Use that.

    If we're talking meter reading, then use the mobile network. Powering up to send a text with the reading every 3 months isn't exactly a big deal and I'd imagine would be considerably cheaper than still having to send someone to each property.

    You really do have to wonder who comes up with these ideas...

    • by BlueStrat (756137)

      Why do 'smart' meters need to broadcast anything?

      Because the "smart" part of the meter is the part where it gives the utility company (and the powers that be) the ability to monitor in real-time what you've got running and at what times, along with the ability to take control of heating/cooling of a residence away from the consumer.

      This is why I simply don't buy what they're selling when they tell consumers it's simply to inform you of usage and keep your rates down by saving on employing people for meter reading. If that was the entire truth, they wouldn

      • Because the "smart" part of the meter is the part where it gives the utility company (and the powers that be) the ability to monitor in real-time what you've got running and at what times, along with the ability to take control of heating/cooling of a residence away from the consumer.

        Why would any company want to do that? Why would anyone want to take control of your heating/cooling? What could anyone possibly gain by doing that? Aside from not being able to charge you more money for using your heating?

        Or is it you're just paranoid?

        • by swalve (1980968)
          For efficient grid utilization and efficient generation utilization. Suppose you have 100 homes on one grid segment. Suppose the air conditioner has a 33% duty cycle and draws 20 amps when it is on. In order to not have the wires catch fire, you need to make sure the wires can carry 2000 amps. Worst case, 33% of the time, they have to feed that neighborhood 2000 amps, and nothing 66% of the time. By taking control of the high-load devices, they can spread out the duty cycles and make sure only a third
      • Do you realise the utility companies can't broadcast a 2.4GHz signal, don't you?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If we're talking meter reading, then use the mobile network. Powering up to send a text with the reading every 3 months isn't exactly a big deal and I'd imagine would be considerably cheaper than still having to send someone to each property.

      The dumb meter I've just gotten here in Australia uses a mesh network to communicate with neighbouring meters. The meters report their own status every 15 minutes, and supposedly pass on status messages from surrounding meters until it reaches a central node for the area, which I haven't found yet. I haven't bothered to monitor the thing yet to see if it broadcasts continuously, or just for a burst every 15 minutes. Fortunately, the local meters are using 900MHz, so they don't interfere with my stuff, but t

  • Smart Meters (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thejynxed (831517) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:46AM (#38156690) Homepage

    These things are about as useful as tits on a lawnmower. The meters can't even record accurate use if your house wiring is over 20 years old. The power company where I live is having fits because not a single one of the smart meters they installed in the historic district of the town where I live (and I live in this district) is recording accurate consumption. They've found meters read 1kWh for an entire week. In an apartment building with 6 apartments. To be fair, the wiring is about ancient in these buildings. Some of it has cloth coverings. The fuse boxes in most of them still use the old "stick" fuses made out of waxed paper, etc, etc, etc. Breaker boxes? WHO NEEDS THOSE :P

    Also of note: the historic district rules prevent people like the power company from installing more than a single meter per standing structure. This makes tenants very happy, as that means each and every single apartment in the district is "utilities included" when it comes to rent.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      These things are about as useful as tits on a lawnmower.

      There are plento of those on the sit-on varieties

    • Re:Smart Meters (Score:4, Interesting)

      by perryizgr8 (1370173) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:43AM (#38157162)

      how does old wiring hamper the ability of the meter to measure power usage? seems like something else is going on.

    • by mangu (126918)

      The meters can't even record accurate use if your house wiring is over 20 years old. ... They've found meters read 1kWh for an entire week.

      Metering has nothing to do with the age of the wiring. If what you said is true it only means the meter is being bypassed by some parallel wiring.

  • Electric pet fences (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 1s44c (552956) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:03AM (#38156764)

    I'd never heard of electric pet fences before. You Americans scare me.

    • by Neil Boekend (1854906) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:27AM (#38156854)
      Its a common enough tool for people who are to lazy to properly train their pet. The version I know is a wire in the ground that sends a low power radio signal and a collar that detects if it crosses the wire. If it does the pet gets a small electric shock.
      In my vieuw (and I have trained a dog to stay inside my parent's garden) this can't be a good thing: the dog gets punished without a clear reason (lazy people didn't take the time to make it clear to the dog it can't go into their flowerbeds). This can wreak havoc on the dog's simple "psyche": I'd expect some to grow fearfull of everything, some to grow extremely viscious and some to go completely beserk.
      • by prefect42 (141309)

        They're illegal in Wales (you can get charged with animal cruelty) and as far as I knew were going to be made illegal in the rest of the UK soon enough.

      • by Sqr(twg) (2126054) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:25AM (#38157360)

        They are not too lazy. They are too stupid. Likely, the same people are also the ones who oppose the U.N Convention of the Rights of the Child (ratified by every country except the U.S.A. and Somalia) because they need to beat the fear of God into their kids.

    • by pacinpm (631330)

      Why? They keep those pesky Aibos from running out.

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:41AM (#38157468) Homepage

      It's more humane than the machine gun pet fences...

      I have had to re purchase far less yorkies and pomeranians with the electric ones, and the neighbors don't complain about the sound of the automatic weapon fire any more. Note: short hair breeds do not catch fire as easy as long hair breeds do.

      But I do miss the sound of, crack, crack, crack, crack, crack, YIEEE!, at night as each neighbors dog fence was to go off spraying 5.56 rounds all over the yards to encourage their dog to stay away from the sidewalk.

  • by Jagen (30952) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:12AM (#38156794) Homepage

    Firstly a lot of people in here seem to be confusing Smart Meters with Energy Monitors. The former replaces the old dial meter and it supposed to communicate with other meters in the area and/or directly with the energy supplier for billing and better tracking of consumption.

    Energy Monitors are those devices which clamp around lines by your meter and communicate to a box in your house giving you an idea of your realtime energy use.

  • Faraday has a perfect solution for this problem. Maybe the power company won't like it, but hey, if they have a problem with it, they should ask the FCC for a frequency range of their own.
  • Just a variant... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@yahoo.cEINSTEINom minus physicist> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:27AM (#38156856) Homepage Journal

    ...of a problem that was first noted in the mid 1980s and termed "electronic smog" but the most general term is RFI and dates back as far radio systems in general. Not only do signals interfere with each other, but signals will interfere with ANY electronic device where pins or wires are capable of acting as a dipole. It's unusual for a machine to get scrambled due to an electronic can opener, but if said devices are improperly shielded, it is inevitable.

    In the case of wireless devices, you obviously can't shield the antenna. Well, not if you want it to still work. Provided interference is randomish and not overwhelming, AND provided all devices are based on packet communications, a device will be capable of repairing packets and identifying if they're intended for that device.

    The first problem is that many electronic devices don't give a damn about power levels beyond being low enough to not be the target of FCC ire. The second problem is that older devices especially are NOT packet based. This means that such devices can't tell if stray signals are intended for them or not. Anything that merely detects the presence of a signal won't care if that signal is a door-opener or a WoW session.

    It would be good if transmitters/receivers were a bit more directional - a garage door probably shouldn't be looking for signals coming from the neighbor's house. A door opener can afford to be very direct, since you want to open your door and nobody else's. A smart meter is designed to transmit to the road, so again it can be extremely directional. Directional transmitters and receivers mean less power is needed for the same signal strength received AND less interference off those directions.

    Medical devices, except when ABSOLUTELY necessary, should NEVER be wireless. The risk of RFI is way too high and the consequences of an error are far too severe. Wireless is also lower bandwidth, which places hard limits on the kinds of sensors it's useful for and also hard limits on what innovations can be made to medical sensor technology. Inside of a hospital room, I can't think of a single use for wireless devices where wired would not be superior in every respect.

  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:07AM (#38157006) Homepage

    When I fire up my 13cm amateur radio gear, I obliterate everything that uses 2.4GHz wireless for a mile or two radius until I'm done transmitting.

    Don't like it? Then make sure your filthy unlicensed ISM gear has adequate filtering. Oh, you bought the cheapest crappiest wifi card you could find? Sucks to be you.

    • by AdamJS (2466928)

      If you're willingly and knowingly disrupting communications and computer devices for people in your area, especially when a lot of them simply might not be able to afford "good gear", then you're just being a dick.

      Unless you're actively listening for such complaints and doing something to help said people or mitigate your impact, in which case, I handily withdraw my criticism.

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