Smart meter fires: as Sensus pays off SaskPower what can the industry learn?


    The Big Question: As the story about Canadian electric utility SaskPower and its installed smart meters catching fire continues to unravel and fascinate/horrify anyone involved in making/selling/buying and installing smart meters, we ask – What are key learnings for the industry from the Sensus and SaskPower crisis?

    The finger of blame (whether spoken or unspoken) is now swinging between installers (whose union today say it wasn’t them); the Crown Corporation for signing off an exemption to the skills level of installers; Sensus for its potentially faulty equipment, and SaskPower for dreaming up the whole smart meter rollout in the first place.

    Which stakeholder will come out of the whole affair with their reputation intact remains to be seen and rests on findings of an independent enquiry due to be released in October.

    Until then, we’d like to know – What do you think? Here are some reader comments we received by email. Please share your opinion in the Comments box below.

    Grey area of installation

    Andrew Bridgham, meter technician, in Florida, US, said:

    I am a meter technician with a utility on Florida and a licensed electrician.

    I have found that the smart metering process has an extremely grey area between the line conductors and the meter. The utility is responsible for the meter and connections to the meter itself in the meter can, but all work to repair or replace parts internal to the meter can must be performed by an electrical contractor.

    This is great, except most electrical contractors do not understand the ANSI standards that cover the meter can. Like jaw tension for insertion and extraction. Loose jaws are a dangerous issue that if not found early enough could cause a hot spot leading to a fire. Most of the time the cost for these repairs falls on the responsibility of the owner of the property and it can get expensive.

    Our smart metering project has been very successful with notifying us of these issues with services and this has prevented many fires from occurring. We have utilised the ability of the meter to notify us of voltage issues.

    Most residential meters are the form 2S which is energized with 240 volts, when a bad connection starts occurring the service voltage will sag or loose a leg causing an outage to occur at the meter.

    With smart meter technology this outage can be captured and monitored. If the number of outages is excessive to set standards the meter will show up on an outage report and can be researched. A comparison can be done of surrounding meters and tracked to the line or the service itself.

    Overall I feel the smart metering initiative has been a great benefit not only for the utilities, but the customers. It has allowed for efficiency within the utilities for reading the meter and connecting and disconnecting power. The customer is receiving the benefit of more information so they can control their own power usage, quicker reconnect and a better power quality from the utility.

    Safety is paramount

    Marco Bogaers, chief executive officer, of Metropolis Metering Services, Brunswick, Australia, said:

    There must never be an exemption to the skills and qualifications of smart meter installers.  The safety of installers and the general public must always be paramount.

    Operating as an AEMO accredited metering provider in Australia, Metropolis is directly accountable for the electrical safety of each and every metering installation for which it is responsible.

    For this reason we engage only licensed electricians as installers, so that metering works are performed by qualified tradespeople recognised as competent in their field.

    Electricians receive further instruction from Metropolis as to how metering works are to be completed, safety equipment requirements, what materials are to be used and what safety tests need to be performed.  A register of the licenses, skills and qualifications of each electrician is maintained.

    Lifecycle management

    Shrinath Eswarahally of Infineon Technologies, said:

    This kind of situation requires strong lifecycle management of the devices installed. If we use crypto-based mechanism to track/log the audit for the lifecycle from production, initialisation to installation to maintenance , one can easily track who is responsible to avoid finger pointing.