SEATTLE – Josh del Sol got curious in the summer of 2011 after a friend linked a serious illness to the recent installation of a “smart meter.”
Del Sol subsequently learned that electrical utilities across North America had been quietly installing “smart grids” that can intelligently monitor Internet-connected meters and appliances in homes and businesses.
Smart grids, which use the Internet to manage the distribution of electricity, have emerged as a target for hackers. The Department of Homeland Security reported last month that the number of cyberattacks against the energy sector rose to 111 incidents during the first half of 2013, compared with 81 incidents for all of 2012.
Now, del Sol is on the verge of premiering a feature-length documentary — his first — titled Take Back Your Power, disclosing questionable industry practices in support of implementing networked control systems for power plants. The film links billing mistakes, invasive monitoring, even human illnesses to the rising use of smart grids in the U.S. and Europe.
The Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing utilities implementing smart grids, had no comment about the movie. Spokesman Jeffrey Ostermayer pointed CyberTruth to an online FAQ explaining the benefits of such systems.
Del Sol, 36, grew up as the son of a bread baker in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Like any good Canadian kid, hockey and goofing off were pretty much central to my life,” he says. Empathy for his sick friend led him to produce a YouTube video of his initial findings. His curiosity soon morphed into a crowd-sourced film financed by 400 supporters from around the world.
Crowd-sourcing also helped del Sol gather up interviews and eye-witness accounts to stitch together a cohesive look at local governments across the nation responding to citizens’ complaints and the utility industry striving to keep a positive outlook.
The crowd will participate in distribution. The film will be made available for instant rental on any smartphone, tablet, TV, PC or Mac via hundreds of affiliated websites tied into a hub at www.yekra.com.
The film’s trailer made its exclusive online debut on Monday; the online premier of the full feature is scheduled Sept. 5.
“Take Back Your Power delivers an ominous, powerful message about the energy industry’s shift to closely watching how customers use energy in their home in an invasive, controversial manner,” says Lee Waterworth, president of Yekra, a video-on-demand company.
Del Sol says access to industry sources was tough. “We had a difficult time getting anyone in the industry to talk to us on camera once they found out that we were wanting to get to the bottom of some of these concerns,” he says.
The filmmaker was surprised by the contrast between the views of industry officials and those of ordinary citizens trying to get to the bottom of safety, privacy and health concerns. Del Sol hopes the documentary helps to prompt the electricity industry “to provide more transparency, accountability and clarity on the issues we explore in the film.”
Jim Turner, chairman of the advocacy group Citizens for Health, agrees. “There is increasing information suggesting that cellphones, smart meters and other sources of electromagnetic fields might pose a health risk to a significant number of individuals,” he says. “The public needs the information in this film to know how to respond.”