This post is the first of two in a series of blogs focused on smart meter malfunctions.
There has been much written lately about the issue of fire hazards due to smart meter installations. Right now, this is under close examination and analysis by a number of utilities, suppliers, and other key stakeholders. A summary of the known facts includes the following summary points:
- Forensic evidence suggests that the problem is a known issue commonly called “hot socket”—a case where the blades of the socket receptacle are not making good electrical contact due to spreading, corrosion, or other insulating effect. As a result, the current flow encounters higher resistance at the contacts, causing excessive temperature rise and possible flash-over.
- Underwriters Lab (UL) has recently been engaged to do safety testing on these smart meters by some utilities. While presently there is not a specific meter safety test protocol by UL, they are modeling these tests after the electric vehicle charging specification (UL 2735).
- There is speculation that the mechanical differences between traditional electro-mechanical meters (glass covers and metal bases) and solid-state meters (carbon compound and plastic) may be a strong contributor to this situation (lower flash point).
- Installation quality may be a root cause, as there appears to be a “cluster” of these events in one community (Bucks County, PA) where a particular installation contractor is being used to deploy these.
- One particular meter manufacturer has been cited by one utility and, as a result, they have switched to another supplier for the time being to see if there is any performance difference. In the meantime, the existing meters have received a new software feature that provides automatic shut-off if problems are detected.
The issue of meter fires is not a brand new topic, as outlined in a recent blog posting from our colleague, Mike Meehan. What has brought this latest set of incidents to the forefront is the higher percentage of meters that are being replaced, and the growing sentiment by a vocal few that smart meters are at the root of all evil in the world.
Given this context regarding the latest concerns of smart meters, what can electric utilities, manufacturers, and other interested stakeholders do to minimize these potential risks? One option is to develop an industry response where current standards fail or contain gaps. This is done already in other industries through the adoption of Recommended Practices (RPs). While they are voluntarily adopted, RPs can become de facto industry standards as they are developed in collaboration with key power industry stakeholders. One example of an RP, released earlier this year by DNV, addresses underground cables in subsea electrical cables. Another, more recent, RP has also been introduced to address potential risks associated with the entire lifecycle of shale gas extraction. Whether or not RPs will become widely-adopted standards will be known in time.
RPs for smart meters that seek to avoid potential and catastrophic failure risks, such as meter overheating and fire eruptions, could focus on a number of key areas such as:
- Meter design, manufacturing, test, and quality assurance: What measures should vendors and third party testing organizations employ to help ensure safety and measures to early identification and reporting of potential problems in smart meters?
- Meter installation processes, installer training, supervision, audit, and test: How should installations take place, what measures from a process and testing perspective should be undertaken to identify risks and to manage them effectively?
- Performance and trouble monitoring and action: With mounds of new information being presented by smart meters, what measures should be taken to diagnose potential problems, take active measures to respond, and to continually monitor to minimize potential risks?
- Analysis and linkage of association of events to look for particular trends: How should new installations be treated within the organization? For instance, how does a utility customer complaint about power quality concerns get linked to their meter installation history, should these concerns result in an immediate dispatch?
Tomorrow, we will post Part 2 of this series where we will comment further on RPs, standards, and solutions for addressing risks associated with smart meter deployments.
By: Ron Chebra, vice president, and Rob Wilhite, global director, Management & Operations Consulting, DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability