Having razed numerous homes to the ground in the United States and Canada, fire-breathing ‘Smart’ Meters are now coming to the UK. And they could provide you with a highly ‘innovative’ (but very expensive) way of heating your home.
The EMF Safety Network this year reported fires, explosions and burned-out appliances due to ‘Smart’ Meter installations in Australia, Canada and the US.
But with the fact that the UK’s 53mn electricity and gas meters are usually located indoors rather than on exterior walls, the risks with fires here are far more serious.
Warning about the ‘Smart’ Meter safety concerns relating to the proposed UK rollout, Electrical Safety First says that “Many existing electrical installations are likely to have inadequate or even non-existent earthing arrangement, putting the occupiers at risk of electric shock or fire should a fault develop.”
They add that there is a need for the “tightness of the connection of the ‘meter tails’ at the main switch in the consumer unit to be checked by meter installers after the cables have been disturbed during the meter replacement process” because “loose connections can and do cause fire.”
After making an enquiry to the Health and Safety Executive, E&T made the shocking discovery that “…the UK has suffered its share of incidents” with ‘Smart’ Meters.
Kieran Jenkins, factory manager for consumer unit manufacturer Proteus Switchgear, describes an incident in Wolverhampton in March 2012 where “…initially, the insurance company had suggested that the fault was with our consumer unit, which had been working without fault for over four year. But when we looked into the matter we noted that a ‘Smart’ Meter had been installed just weeks before and the meter tail was not properly secured” (Sangani 2012).
Unfortunately it appears that many installations in the UK will not be carried out by fully-qualified electricians or engineers, further increasing the likelihood of mistakes being made during installation.
In 2012, an HSE spokesperson said: “Since 2010, HSE has received three reports of near misses to the ESQCR Electrical Incidents Database involving ‘Smart’ Meter installations. The reported issues are not specific to the meters themselves, but appear to be related to incorrect or faulty installation practices.”
But this is almost certainly not the full picture.
A 2010 report, produced by a fire officer working for the East Sussex Fire Service for the Association of Chief Fire Officers, suggested that there could be a significant under-reporting of ‘Smart’ Meter-related incidents: “since it is likely that a percentage of incidents involving overheated electrical equipment are never reported to the [Fire] Service and instead are dealt with entirely by the local electrical supply company.”
Contrary to industry hype, installation of ‘Smart’ Meters is not mandatory. And at least one UK energy provider – possibly aware of the risks of ‘Smart’ Meter technology and the legal issues that may arise due to their installation – assures customers that: “If you decide you do not wish to have a Smart meter we can replace it with a standard one” (EDF 2013).
This kind of policy is clearly an appropriate step and message for customers, but significant risks associated with fire are not being featured in any of Big Energy’s ‘Smart’ Meter sales pitches (the same can be said for other risks, too).
This is particularly worrying in the UK since, in domestic situations, energy meters are often located indoors in positions that could cause an increased risk of loss of life if fire broke out.
In family homes, often this will include cupboards in living rooms (often adjacent to the main exit door), under timber stairs that typically provide the sole route of escape from upstairs rooms, or in basement areas. Many meter enclosures are not fire-resistant.
In buildings with multiple occupancy, meters can sometimes be found in entrance halls, dead-end corridors and/or corridors within single-stair exit facilities. Multiple meters can alternatively sometimes be located in subterranean car parks directly beneath multiple occupancy dwellings where, if fire arose, there might also be the added risk of vehicle fuel tanks igniting.
The installation of ‘Smart’ Meters (particularly those installed by individuals that are not fully-qualified professionals) may greatly increase fire risk and potential loss of life.
Be safe – stick with your analogue meter.