Smart Meter Fires

Add another item to the list of worries slowing the smart grid rollout

2 min read
Smart Meter Fires

We are seeing a spate of report from around the United States—and indeed around the world—of fires believed to have been caused by smart meters that were faulty, incorrectly installed, or connected to circuits where there were unfortunate and unforeseen effects. This appears to be not just a matter of freak incidents that may or may not have taken place here or there. In a compilation made by the EMF Safety Network, which specializes in EMF and RF precaution, there are at least a couple of dozen smart meter fire reports from Australia to Canada and virtually all regions of the United States, and some of those reports concern a couple of dozen fire incidents. In some cases fires appear to have originated in the meters themselves, in other cases in appliances like microwave ovens or refrigerators (as in the photo above), because of power surges.

To be sure, those reports are not necessarily going undisputed by local utilities and energy companies. In one instance, for example, California's PG&E and fire officials have taken issue with an initial report of meter induced fires in Santa Rosa; a short circuit in the distribution system blew out a number of meters, both conventional and two-way, the local fire chief said. On the other hand, just last week Commonwealth Edison of Illinois confirmed three smart meter fires in its operating area, and earlier last month its sibling company Peco Energy suspended smart meter installations in the Mid-Atlantic states after 15 reports of smart meter fires, one in Philadelphia.

Britain's Electrical Safety Council considers meters generally a fire hazard, as cables or fuses deteriorate with time, and it has warned electricity users against storing flammable items like rags or paper near electrical intake equipment.

Obviously all companies with smart meter programs, and all their suppliers and sub-contractors, are going to have to take a close look at the issue of fire hazards. This is just the beginning of a difficult story. Companies installing smart meters already have run into a lot of consumer push-back because of concerns about privacy, security, and--sometimes--higher rather lower electricity costs. The last thing the smart grid needs is meters causing fires.

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