Many issues to consider before rolling out smart meters

A view of the high-rise HDB flats in Toa Payoh taken at night. A purported benefit of smart meters is that they can allow consumers to see their utility consumption every half an hour.
A view of the high-rise HDB flats in Toa Payoh taken at night. A purported benefit of smart meters is that they can allow consumers to see their utility consumption every half an hour.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

I have a number of concerns over smart meters ("Utility usage data via mobile app?" and "Wanted: Smart meters for households"; both published on Tuesday, and "Spurring change in utility usage"; yesterday).

First, are smart meters accurate? We know from experience with computers that electronic devices tend to malfunction when overheated.

Given our hot climate, would it not increase the risk of smart meters malfunctioning, leading to households being inaccurately billed?

Second, since these smart meters have a control function, in the event of an electricity outage to the meters, will this also cripple the supply of water and gas to households?

Third, given that smart meters rely on wireless Internet connections to communicate with utility companies, are they not vulnerable to cyber attacks? The recent cyber attack on StarHub suggests that Singapore is not immune to such malicious acts ("StarHub: Cyber attacks behind broadband outages"; yesterday).

Fourth, can smart meters cause electronic interference with Wi-Fi connections or other electronic gadgets within households?

In addition, can radiation from these electromagnetic devices cause cancer or have other detrimental health effects?

Also, will consumers be charged for these smart meters?

The entire smart meter infrastructure, together with the replacement of old meters, will come at a huge initial capital expense. Would these costs get transferred to consumers by way of higher utility bills?

A purported benefit of these smart meters is that they can allow consumers to see their utility consumption every half an hour.

But are there many people in Singapore who bother to check their meters daily? If not, wouldn't these meters be white elephants?

That said, with regard to the trial that will start in early 2018 and last for six months, I propose that it be lengthened to, perhaps, a number of years before a full roll-out, so that levels of consumer usage, durability and safety can be confirmed.

Chan Yeow Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Many issues to consider before rolling out smart meters'. Print Edition | Subscribe