You don't have to be a tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoiac to be worried that the electromagnetic radiation from modern wireless devices may be harmful to your health. But are the "smart meters" being installed by utilities throughout the state frying homeowners' brains, as many consumers and even municipal governments fear? The risks are vanishingly small, while the economic and environmental benefits of smart meters are wide and obvious. In fact, we wish L.A.'s municipal utility would get busy installing the devices, though that isn't likely to happen any time soon.
Smart meters have the potential to change the delivery of electricity as profoundly as the Internet changed the delivery of information.They contain radio transmitters that send real-time information about power usage directly to utilities and consumers — and, in the future, to smart appliances. This boosts efficiency in myriad ways.
Utilities save money because they no longer have to employ meter readers. Smart meters will also eventually enable utilities to raise and lower the price of electricity based on demand, allowing consumers to adjust their power use accordingly. So, for example, on hot summer days when power demand is high, consumers would save money by waiting until evening to run the dishwasher. If this causes them to reduce their overall usage, it should also lower their bills. Someday, smart air conditioners might be programmed to respond to these signals as well, turning themselves down when the price of power soars. The nationwide "smart grid" enabled in part by smart meters would cut the risk of blackouts, ease the integration of clean power sources such as wind farms and solar plants (these are tough to accommodate on the current grid because they produce power intermittently and the old-fashioned system can't quickly react to changes in output), and reduce the need to build polluting fossil fuel power plants. Everybody wins.