California-based investigative writer, Nina Beety, recently released a 50-page overview on electrical hazards associated with digital utility meters. Her extensively referenced document points out the many ways that smart meters can malfunction – sometimes with catastrophic consequences. Meters have exploded and have caused fires and they have likely contributed to the severity of other fires. Some of the fires have resulted in the deaths of people and their pets.
The inanity of placing a device which is packed with circuit boards outdoors, and exposed to the elements, is highlighted. The electronics can overheat. The meters are light and don’t dissipate heat as well as electromechanical meters. Moisture can be the trigger which causes smart meter fires.
Small electronic parts can’t handle high intensity voltage surges. Remotely turning on and turning off power can cause meters to combust. The switch-mode power supply creates high frequency transients.
High frequency wireless radiation from mesh-networked smart meters causes molecules to change polarity 1.8 billion times per second. The polarity change may be even higher for 3G smart meters. This causes vibration at a molecular level to building materials, metal and in the body. Near-field exposure can also cause metal fatigue and rapid non-oxidative corrosion due to electron-stripping.
To top this off, the location of the meter itself presents challenges because fires often start outside the house, at the meter box, and can’t be detected by smoke alarms. Nevada fire chief Tom Garrison is reported as saying of a smart meter blaze “It can burn a long time and enter the attic or the walls. The occupants inside may not even be aware the house is on fire.” And even if fire crews have arrived on the scene, another obstacle presents itself: authorised personnel may be needed to disconnect the electricity at the pole if the meter fire makes it impossible to access the fuse box switch.
Studies have also shown that trees near radiofrequency-emitters can show significant stress. Trees produce terpenes when they are stressed or injured. These volatile oils create a more flammable environment. The infrastructure required for smart meters (towers and, in the case of mesh networks, access points), along with the meters themselves, may be helping to create a perfect storm in our hot, dry summers.
Water and gas smart meters also aren’t safe from the threat of fires and explosions. The lithium batteries which power them are very flammable to water, as well as overheating, which can cause them to explode.
As Nina Beety concludes, “The most preventable fire hazard in every community may be smart/digital utility meters”.
Access “Overview: Fire and Electrical Hazards from ‘Smart’, Wireless, PLC, and Digital Utility Meters” here.
Previous posts that SSMA has done on smart meter fire issues include: