back to article Watt the f... Dim smart meters caught simply making up readings

Some smart meters might more accurately be described as fake meters because they present false readings about energy consumption. A recent study from researchers at University of Twente (UT) and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) has found that three-phase static (electronic) energy meters, which are replacing …

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Re: There's more to it that that...

And when my washing machine will hang the washing out, put the next load in or even transfer it to the tumble drier above at 3am then great I will use its time function. I work during the week and only have sat/sun to do the beds, lights and darks... 3 loads usually (God I am a domesticated bloke aren't I?) I did try getting a wife to do this but she went to work instead to help pay the inflated bills created by the idiot politicians on the take

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Re: There's more to it that that...

"WTF, we do not have to switch meters in France when we switch suppliers"

No, well, not at the moment maybe. But you'll soon get the Linky and you have no right of refusal (only the mayor for the entire commune, if (s)he's even aware).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it that that...

"I think the real reason is to introduce time- and demand- based billing"

What about the 'economy-7' meter, which switches between billing bands at certain times of day? They've been around for decades.

I just moved out of a house which had one, where some idiot had removed the timer unit - causing it to permanently read on the 'peak' meter.

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Boffin

Crap meter design

Back in the nineties I had a hand in designing a energy logger. Used Current transformers to measure the current, and measured the voltage signal from the mains plug.

There was no theoretical phase lag on the CT (obviously a little due to non-idealness), so we could measure real power by on-the-fly multiplying the sampled current with the sampled voltage.

We used a sample rate of about 10kHz, which seemed to be enough to catch most curous current waveforms, and allowed all the filtering to be digital (therefore no drifting, etc).

With modern mixed-signal micros being pennies, there's no excuse for doing this badly.

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Trollface

Re: There's more to it that that...

Thought? Whoa now. Let's not be insulting them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it that that...

we do not have to switch meters in France when we switch suppliers ... they all pump their current into the grid and we take from that. It would just be silly if the different suppliers used different incompatible meters

The UK meters don't change, but the in-house displays are provided by the suppliers and are (intentionally?) not compatible with each other. If you switch supplier you lose the ability to see your real-time consumption unless you pay for a new display.

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Re: WHOLE point is reduce the ability to swap suppliers easily

No, that's reason #2

Reason #1 is to remotely disconnect you either because they THINK you didn't pay or because they need to shed load.

Load shedding is definitely something headed the UK's way. With only 5% excess capacity in the network over demand at peak times things are not looking good. Add in large amounts of intermittent wind supply which burdens the network with requirements for base-load backup in the form of gas turbines which are more expensive to run and you can see where you are headed - high price, unreliable supply.

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Re: There's more to it that that...

WTF, we do not have to switch meters in France when we switch suppliers ... they all pump their current into the grid and we take from that. It would just be silly if the different suppliers used different incompatible meters ... who thought that one out ??????

Same here in NZ. The billing company is a billing company, they do stuff all with the actual power supply. All they do is "buy" power from the generator, slap some admin charges and markup on top, and send you the bill. Would be great if I could get stuff wholesale instead, but can't do that because "freemarket is cheaper" (read the same as "freedom is slavery" etc)

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Re: There's more to it that that...

to do the beds, lights and darks... 3 loads usually

Now I can understand this way back in the 1950's when washing machines were new and washing powders weren't so science as "lets throw some caustic chemical powders in a box and slap a catchy name and bright colours on the label", but in this day and age? Sure, separate out delicate things maybe, but everything else can go in the same load a lot of the time. I might not put woolens in when I do a hot wash (which is quite rare, and I'd rather wash only that which really needs it on low water rather than a full load on full water). The only time I do more than one load is when I can't reasonably get stuff in one load.

Are you sure you can't get away with 2 loads, like putting lights and darks in at the same time? Preferably while the wife is at work, what she don't know won't hurt you....

'Course, being a bloke, I don't have a collection of daintys and unmentionables that need super special powders and settings, toss it all in one load and hit the go button. If I was to be encumbered with a missus (or a she-kind flatmate) I might have to change. Even brand new jeans go in with other stuff, but then most of my clothing is of a blue or black persuasion anyway... The dyes on clothing today and the powders tend to conspire together to make sure that colours don't run.

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Re: There's more to it that that...

Ahh, but a Smart freezer, electric car chargers,most residential lighting, heating appliances, home air conditioning (where people work days), dishwashers, washers, electric dryers, water well pumping, etc. can run at night at lower rates, rather than the high-demand daytime hours. Most, but not all commercial loads are bound to daytime use.

Our County government took advantage of low night time rates for 100 % of the its offices' daytime air conditioning needs through a eutectic ice storage system, saving more at least 0.30 USD/kWH. And there were any other energy saving devices integrated into gas, electric and water utility systems. Most had a three year,or less, payback. The ice storage took less than ten, and it's still going strong after twenty.

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Re: There's more to it that that...

The three gallons in the bottom of my front loader wouldn't leak out after an outage except during a VERY LARGE earthquake.

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Unhappy

"Current transformers..and measured the voltage signal from the mains plug."

And with a 10KHz sample frequency that would give a system able to accept a component up to 5Khz or 100x nominal base line UK mains frequency.

Which sounds like it should be able to cope with a very nasty load indeed.

But.

Analog design is hard and y'know actually paying for a good analogue designer who knows WTF they are doing....

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Re:There's more to it that that...

We manage to do one load each evening, no problem. We could manage it before dinner if we wanted to and maybe will, now that you mention it. Why wait until 2 or 3? Beds take 2-3 minutes. We rotate 2 sets of sheets, and have a back up set for y rare ostomy catastrophes. Where's the problem if you aren't away from home 18 hours a day? If I defer laundry I can do 3 loads in two hours while making beds, cooking dinner, watching TV, reading email, and returning phone calls during commercials. 235 channels- nothing to see, spam email, and an automatic washer don't take much attention. I even get the clothes folded and put away. Granted, all of those things happen at home. A trip to the laundromat takes a dedicated hour, even with take away dinner, but they do have WiFi....

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Re: There's more to it that that...

We don't get to choose meters or suppliers. public utility monopoly. I see now I have to pay extra for the privilege of generating more than I use through my solar panels, on top of the $25 USD/mo, for the privilege of simply having the utility connected to my house for nighttime use. Last I recall, that minimum charge for service in Hawaii, a chain of volcanoes using virtually no geothermal, we were paying $65 five years ago. That's a monopoly State wide. Although there is a TOKEN bit of wind power (and with tradewinds available, besides!), it's mandated charge is the same $0.65/kwh min., last I looked. No incentive to develop the local resources tolerated, just pay the same as to import fossil fuels by ship. Pretty inefficient where there is lots of sun, lots of wind, unlimited geothermal, all extremely low cost generators, albeit there is NO WAY to use it. Some few do go completely off grid. Likely they'll assess a fee and install meters on that soon, too, should it occurs to HELCO.

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Re: There's more to it that that...

>> Maybe, but your washing machine/tumble drier/dishwasher all have selectable 'wait X hours' modes which do allow for this kind of usage.

Yours may have but my ten year old washing machine and tumble drier definitely don't unless I use an alarm clock to tell me to go down and press the start button

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Anonymous Coward

Re: There's more to it that that...

And when my washing machine will hang the washing out, put the next load in or even transfer it to the tumble drier above at 3am...

OK, we get it, you're not married.

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Re: There's more to it that that...

Put lights and darks in at the same time and I guarantee you'll end up with grey "whites".

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FAIL

pah....

they'll need a court order to attach one to my supply.

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Re: pah....

How much of a premium are you prepared to pay to not have one? You can bet that as soon as they can, they'll start to really sting those who chose not to switch to encourage them to change their minds.

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Re: pah....

Have they worked out a way to use a smart meter with the new supplier when you change suppliers? Or is that an option to turn a smart metier into a dumb meter? This doesn't get around the issue of a smart meter potentially over charging you, but it might get around the snooping. Unless it still reports back to the original supplier.

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Re: pah....

You can bet that as soon as they can, they'll start to really sting those who chose not to switch to encourage them to change their minds.

That happened with my water meter. When I moved into my current house the unmetered water bill was based on the old rateable value, and was stupidly high. We got a water meter and promptly cut the bill by ~75%. I fully expect dumb metered electricity tariffs to start ratcheting up in cost against smart meter ones in the next few years.

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Re: pah....

You assume they have an inventory that shows who has and who hasn't had one. I've twice been told to check my smart meter, I don't have one. I've also had quotes from my own supplier "based on my smart meter readings" via the post if I were to stay with them - after deciding to change.

They don't know, it's a complete mess and frankly that means I'll probably be considered to have one for decades to come despite having the old mechanical type.

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Re: pah....

"How much of a premium are you prepared to pay to not have one?"

It depends. The premium might be less than the overcharging.

You can also try playing one supplier off against another. Unless it's made compulsory someone might have the wit not to charge a premium and make it a USP.

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Unhappy

"Have they worked out a way to use a smart meter with the new supplier when you change suppliers?"

I'm guessing they all use a standard (and not very secure) protocol

You can bet that not changing the meter every time you switch supplier was high on the design brief.

A key feature (to the electricity companies) was ending meter readings by meatsacks.

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Re: pah....

All meter readings are available to all suppliers.

Source -- used to work at a supplier.

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Unhappy

"All meter readings are available to all suppliers."

Thought it was something like this.

Although presumably only when they are nominated as the customers supplier, and not all customers, all the time.

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Re: pah....

They will go down the same line as the tv licence people... assume one way or the other then hassle and threaten.

The tv licence assumes you have a tv. They send a threatening letter once a fortnight to try and scare you. Then once every few months send a person to try and trick their way in the front door so you can 'prove' you dont have a tv (overturning the idea of innocent until they prove you guilty). Eventually they run out of patience and get court orders to force their way onto the guilty persons premises. Of course this is considered ok for something as trivial as a tv so why wont it be the same for meters?

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Re: pah....

Then once every few months send a person to try and trick their way in the front door so you can 'prove' you dont have a tv (overturning the idea of innocent until they prove you guilty).

At which point you threaten them with a restraining order for harassment. It is surprisingly effective when you fire back with a legal instrument.

Eventually they run out of patience and get court orders to force their way onto the guilty persons premises.

See above. Believe me... Capita has *never* tried to intimidate me again after I threatened them with a restraining order. It wouldn't have cost me much. I put my neighbours and my landlord at the time on notice that this had happened and that they were under no circumstances to allow access to Capita staff working for TV Licensing. The letters stopped after a very apologetic letter from their head of licensing.

Of course this is considered ok for something as trivial as a tv so why wont it be the same for meters?

Legally, electricity and gas meters must be read at least once a year by the organisation (the supplier or a nominated party by the supplier, such as a contractor like Clancy Docwra) that it is provided by. So yes, by denying access to a legally-mandated meter reader, you are breaking the law. TV Licensing is different in that they have to prove that you are watching TV illegally. And with the latest updates to the legalese, watching TV over iPlayer is now also verboten without a TV licence.

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Re: pah....

The last run in I had with the TV licensing folk was when I received a blunt/rude threatening letter about not having a licence because I bought some video kit that was capable of receiving TV signals under my name and the TV licence was under my partner's name (same address). They demanded that I provide evidence that we had a TV licence. I wrote back to them informing that they must know about the TV licence we had because that is what their TV adverts stated on their very clever systems and therefore they should check their records first before sending rude threatening letters. I didn't exactly get an apology, more something along the lines of "in this instance we are letting you off for forcing us to do our job properly".

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WTF?

Perhaps They Need a Name Change

Call them 'lottery meters' they generate random numbers that you can use to lose on the lottery. A double success, overpay and lose your stake - time for a stake, straight through the heart of this pile of agricultural effluent.

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Marketing again

1. Sell fuzzy story about customer benefits

2. Get meters fitted

3. Profit !!!

I thought that standards were supposed to ensure that an Amp measured by one person is comparable to an Amp measured by another.

So, presumably making up the numbers is called fraud ?

How long do you think it will be until the rebates come back to the overcharged customers ?

Answers on a post card to the usual address.

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Trollface

Meter smarts

Those are gas meters, not electrical meters in the accompanying photo.

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Re: Meter smarts

Those are gas meters, not electrical meters in the accompanying photo.

Since when did El Reg pictures in the articles have anything to do with the article. At least these are 50% right as they are meters.

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Boffin

Re: Meter smarts

No, they are 200% wrong as there are 2 of them thus compounding the error :-)

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Happy

Re: Meter smarts

"Those are gas meters, not electrical meters in the accompanying photo."

Don't get started on those...

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Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

Way back a long time ago, the backs of magazines used to sell plans for changing the power factor of appliances and even entire homes. The idea is to change the phase between alternating voltage and current so that it's measured incorrectly; exploiting the difference between sum(volts * amps) and sum(volts) * sum(amps). They used to be scams but it sounds like they could work now.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

"They used to be scams but it sounds like they could work now."

A comment on another article the other day suggested that the power factor does not affect domestic metering devices.

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Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

This article is about some new meters not measuring current transients correctly, so power factor does matter. If I'm reading it correctly, inductive pickup is measuring the derivative of the current and it's being digitally integrated with some component of error. Put the errors in the right place and you can alter your bill.

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Boffin

Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

That comment on power factor you quote was mine. And I made the implicit assumption that the metering devices accurately measure current, voltage and phase angle at the supply to correctly calculate kWh. Power factor does affect domestic metering devices but they take it into consideration to produce your kWh units.

I've ready the full text of the study as I have an IEEE subscription. Domestic single phase electronic meters (the ones your energy supplier will install in your home) were tested and the following conclusion reached: The results can be summarized in one sentence: no deviation beyond the specification could be observed; no influence of interference due to interfering or distorted voltage, and no influence caused by interfering currents were observed. Thus, home smart meters do not exhibit the effects described in the article. Dang.

The study is instead looking at commercial premises 3-phase meters, and the influence of sites with non-linear, fast switching devices causing high levels of electromagnetic interference, the example given was a farm with a large solar array plus some motors using drives. For these 3-phase meters, they did not fare well under certain specific conditions, with the Hall-effect sensors under-reading and the Rogowski sensors over-reading. They did not fully identify the root cause but believe it was due to the test-setup causing current saturation in the sensor, which occured if sufficiently fast current pulses were fed to the meter.

So yeah, makes for great headlines, and indeed highlights a problem, but not one that affects the general public at large.

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Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

Household loads are becoming increasingly non-linear with really awful harmonics.

For example, most LED lamps draw a huge surge partway up the rise, then snap off partway down the fall.

Then there are the electronic motor drives in modern washing machines etc, and the turn-on surfes of the SMPs in all the household equipment.

The only linear loads in my home are the kettle, coffe maker and electric oven. Everything else is an SMP or a motor drive.

This is only going to get worse, of course.

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Re: Household loads are becoming increasingly non-linear

Note that the single phase meters tested showed "no deviation beyond the specification could be observed; no influence of interference due to interfering or distorted voltage, and no influence caused by interfering currents were observed"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

"Household loads are becoming increasingly non-linear with really awful harmonics."

OK, but properly enforced EMC regulations would significantly reduce that, surely?

You know, a CE mark where the Declaration of Conformity was in some way connected to reality, and where kit which isn't CE compliant is blocked at the importers.

Instead, our leaders offer us "bonfire of the red tape" (and worse).

"The only linear loads in my home are the kettle, coffe maker and electric oven. Everything else is an SMP or a motor drive."

There's a lot of it about. Significantly fewer classically resistive loads means voltage reductions don't reduce electricity demand like they used to. Who can remind readers why "smart **meters**" need a remotely controllable off switch? Apparently Andrew Wright at Ofgem can:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/11/britain-facing-energy-crisis-could-could-see-families-pay-extra/

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Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

@ Brenda McViking

Thanks for a much appreciated rational and informative comment.

What on earth are you doing in El Reg's comment section? :-)

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Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

"Household loads are becoming increasingly non-linear with really awful harmonics."

OK, but properly enforced EMC regulations would significantly reduce that, surely?

The devices which Richard described are those which we're being encouraged to use - LED lamps, more efficient washing machines etc. If they're inherently non-linear TPTB are going to have to make some tough choices about conflicting policies.

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Flame

Re: most LED lamps draw

Most LED lamps are SMPSU giving a low voltage. Most CFL use a SMPSU that is called an Electronic ballast, which replaces the passive iron cored choke.

The problems are that the circuits take current spikes at the peak of the sinewave and generate RFI. Also life is short due to the electrolytic capacitors drying out.

I like the new filament string LED (typically 28 LEDs and 110V per filament, but 220V/240V models may use longer "filaments" or pairs). Virtually no RFI, though they still only take current over part of the cycle as they have a rectifier and capacitor, though no pesky SMPSU in ones I've looked at.

Some SMPSUs will blow up or go on fire or trip the "fuse box" during a "brown out" as they take more current to maintain output power and voltage.

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Re: CE mark ... in some way connected to reality,

I've seen PC PSUs with the filter caps all left out and filter coil / chokes all replace by wire links.

Also phone chargers and CFL ballasts with the filter components missing.

They get mark and then leave out components to save money. Most governments only test if a lot of consumers complain. Most governments have no interest in pro-active enforcement of consumer rights or approval marks (c.f. SOGA, sale prices, equipment in retail for a different market etc).

Power socket networking gear SMPSUs are well filtered as otherwise they'd not work. They pass EMI/RFI by only being plugged in and also not being used with data.

Also the domestic wiring setup for CE testing isn't realistic. The lighting circuits only have live to wall switch, so they even more than socket wiring act as aerials.

Contrary to popular belief the main fuse box / meter provides no significant filtering for mains networking or SMPSU/Electronic ballast noise.

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Unhappy

"study is instead looking at commercial premises 3-phase meters, "

So not home meters at all.

However.

There are plenty of small(ish) UK businesses that are quite big electricity users whose electricity bills would absolutely destroy them if they rose 5x.

Incidentally since this is an EU requirement and since it is optional (IE the Germans aren't forcing this) perhaps it's time for UK Reg readers to call "Bul***hit" on the business and write to their MP's and suggest this is a huge waste of money. Mandated by the govt it offers a very small (and shrinking) benefit to consumers, a big charge to the consumer (you can be the foreign owned utility companies will claw every f**king penny of their cost out of consumer bills) and now a potentially fatal electricity bill for some UK (mostly mfg) companies to boot.

And while we're at it isnt' the UK leaving the EU?

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Re: Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery

I have a University-based institutional subscription to the IEEE journal, and I can confirm that the observed inaccuracies are ONLY seen with three-phase meters, and then only in circumstances where large photovoltaic arrays are feeding power back into the grid via Active In-feed Converters (AICs). It seems that these AICs are not subject to proper regulation regarding how much electromagnetic interference (EMI) they may generate, and thus having been built to the lowest possible standard many of these AICs generate quite a lot of EMI.

The dodgy photovoltaic converters weren't the only EMI emitters seen; the drive systems for fans in one farm's barns were also very noisy indeed. Reading between the lines, I would think that quite a lot of electrical equipment on farms especially is going to be very noisy in EMI terms, partly through age and partly because with the old mechanical three-phase meters, it didn't matter a jot.

Having discovered all of this and built a specially EMI-noisy measuring rig, the researchers then went on to test the single-phase meters that pretty much all domestic situations will have. They found no deviation from the specification, and no influence from interference, EMI noise or distorted voltages could be detected.

TL,DR: No problem detected for household meters.

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Re: China Export mark ... in some way connected to reality,

I had to take the common mode choke out of my washing machine controller PCB because the windings blew. Saved me 50 quid for a new PCB, and it's worked fine since for 5 years.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: China Export mark ... in some way connected to reality,

"take the common mode choke out of my washing machine controller PCB because the windings blew. Saved me 50 quid for a new PCB, and it's worked fine since for 5 years."

Meanwhile, DSL broadband in the neighbourhood (and any other service dependent on a clean RF environment) has experienced unexplained dropouts for the last five years, every time certain modes of your washing machine operate. (It *could*, and in some cases it *will*. But some people will be lucky, and it won't affect their particular setup).

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