Smart Meters are high tech devices being installed by utility companies to provide two-way wireless transmittal of information to and from a utility to track energy use more accurately and to enable utility companies to monitor power distribution load and usage and to remotely shut off electricity. While there have been some concerns regarding privacy and the fear of what utility companies will do with the information, the reports of fires in several states have raised a whole new level of concern.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission is investigating reports of fires caused by the new meters. The Maryland Public Service Commission held a hearing on Tuesday, August 28 based upon reports of the fires in Pennsylvania. There have also been reports of fires in California.
According to a paper published in July 2010 by Cindy Sage of Sage Associates and James J. Biergiel, EMF Electrical Consultant, the new meters may be contributing to electrical fires where there is a weak spot such as older wiring, undersized neutrals for the electric load, poor grounding, or use of aluminum conductors. The use of Smart Meters according to the authors places an entirely new and significantly increased burden on existing electrical wiring because of the very short, very high intensity wireless emissions (radio frequency bursts) that the meters produce to signal the utility about energy uses. According to the authors, the typical gauge electrical wiring that provides electricity to buildings (60 Hz power) is not constructed or intended to carry high frequency harmonics that are increasingly present on normal electrical wiring. The exponential increase in use of appliances, variable speed motors, office and computer equipment and wireless technologies has greatly increased these harmonics in community electrical grids and the buildings they serve with electricity. Harmonics are high frequencies than 60 Hz that carry more energy, and ride along on the electrical wiring in bursts. Radio frequency (RF) is an unattended by product of this electrical wiring according to the paper.
The manufacturer of the meters, Sensus Metering Systems, Inc., has denied that there is any problem with the approximate 10,000,000 meters it has installed nationwide. The company maintains that it has investigated reported failures of its meters and “in all cases, it was determined that the meters were not the cause of the problem.”
All of us involved in Subrogation should closely follow what is happening with the investigation of the potential for Smart Meters to cause electrical fires and make sure that our investigators are up to date on what is happening around the country with Smart Meters.