Smart meter fires & explosion - safety, chipboard, unsafe switchboard
A whistleblower who works for Jemena has gone public with safety concerns. The employee, who used the pseudonym "John", contacted 3AW on 22 Feb 2012, said he knew that smart meters were fire risks. He said Jemena lied to customers about the safety of smart meters. He said 6 smart meters in the Pasco Vale / Broadmeadows area have caught fire in the last few months.
Many Victorian homes have a switchboard backed with chipboard where the electricity meter is mounted.
It has been revealed that Victorian's smart meters are more prone to catching fire than the old rotary disc meters. As the new meters are simply fitted to where the old meter was installed, the chipboard will also catch fire.
So far (as of Feb 2012), a handfull of smart meters have burst into flames. Fortunately, no houses have burnt down as a result. However it is only a matter of time before one does - the millions of smart meters installed throughout Victoria are ticking time bombs.
As described on the Say No to Smart Meters article, smart meters are fully electronic, relying on a microprocessor to calculate the power usage. These microprocessors generate small amounts of heat all the time, unlike mechanical rotary disc meters that consume no power (and don't spin) when the home is not consuming electricity.
Smart meters are substantially made from plastic, unlike older meters that use bakelite or similar material. Any electrical fault, such as arcing (due to loose or rushed intallation of wiring) can easily ignite and spread through the smart meter's material and onwards to the switchboard.
The rush to push the meters out has spawned a new industry of cheap labour, with some contractors spending no more than 15 minutes at each property installing a smart meter. Safety checks would not be thourough given the tight timeframes. Essentially, profits have been placed ahead of safety. Several cases are known where the polarity was reversed and earth wires were not fitted.
Power surges can make smart meters unsafe
Dean Mile, from the state electricity workers union, told 3AW's Mitchell that a power surge (e.g. from a lightning strike) can cause internal damage to the smart meter. These smart meters may not show visual signs of damage after a 'high voltage incident'. However, if left unchecked, the smart meter could explode in flames as soon as the main fuse is replaced.
A high voltage incident is also known as a high voltage injection, which is when a higher voltage is applied to the low voltage network. This can be caused by a lighting strike, or high voltage lines coming into contact with low voltage lines. The high voltage causes damage to the smart meter, causing a short circuit and thus blows the main fuse.
As such, every smart meter will need to be properly tested after a high voltage incident. Due to its design, it involves physically removing the smart meter for further testing. With the older rotary disc meters, it would be easy to tell that it was damaged simply by looking through the front inspection window.
More susceptible to failure?
Why they are more prone to failure than mechanical meters? Smart meters use an electronic switching device known as a "Solid State Relay (SSR)". The relay provides the remote power switching functionality for the energy distributor/retailer. These electronic relays are not tolerant to over voltage conditions or power surges (high voltage injections). Once damaged, they become a fire hazard. Some damaged meters have had liquid leaking from the failed SSR. If a mechanical relay were to be used, such problems could be avoided.
A leaked Jemena memo states that after an area suffers a high voltage injection incident, all smart meters must be replaced. However, such action is not being taken, which potentially leaves unsafe smart meters installed on customer premises.
Update 1 Mar 2012 - Police has been called into the smart meter debacle.
Jemena have asked the police to investigate the liquid leaking from faulty smart meters.
It is speculated that the liquid could have been 'planted' by opponents of the smart meter program in an effort to cause further embroilment, as part of industrial sabotage.
However it is quite likely the liquid has come from a failed capacitor. Electrolytic capacitors have electrolytes, which can leak when they are subjected to abnormal electrical conditions.
2 Mar 2012 - Jemena's Managing Director, Paul Adams, had the strange liquid tested by a laboratory and it was found it could not have come from the smart meter. The liquid caused the meter to fail.
He said "forensic scientists revealed the issue to us". The liquid used was Hydrochloric acid, and in some later instances, was found to be caustic acid or an alkaline mixture of other chemicals.
Five of the failed meters have had the liquid applied to them.
Paul Adams says the material is similar to acid found in batteries and causes the metrer to arc over, carbonise and eventually short out.
Jemena will be leaving the issue with the police for further forsenic investigation.
Anyone seeing suspiscous activity is requested to call crime stoppers.