Segment #17 – Cause of Incidents – Appendix A (Discussion on Hot Sockets)

RESPONSE TO BCUC’s Staff Report on Smart Meter Fire Safety Concerns

KEY:  Highlighted text is from Sharon Noble  Non-highlighted text is the draft report as written by BCUC staff.

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Segment #17

BCUC admits that there have been 24 “post-installation incidents”, but “it’s possible there are others.”  Based on what?  But they are ruling out $$meters as the cause although it “can’t be ruled out.”  Remember, this is BCUC’s response to my complaints and evidence.  There is no indication that any qualified person inspected any of the meters involved in these “incidents”.

How many fires do there need to be before the BCUC, BC Hydro, the Energy Minister, the Fire Commissioner or someone gets concerned? In Saskatchewan, the meters were recalled after 8 incidents.  I hope you are sending this information to John Horgan and Adrian Dix (who told me he doesn’t believe any of my evidence) and to your local media.

Sharon Noble

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Cause of Incidents

A review of the information and photos provided by the utilities, BC Safety Authority reports, available fire commission reports and fire department reports provides the most comprehensive assessment to date to review likely causes of these incidents in British Columbia.   A total of 24 post-installation events have been identified though it is possible there are others. The vast majority of incidents appear to be related to damaged or faulty meter sockets, including hot sockets17.

17 See Appendix A for a discussion on “Hot Sockets” [see below]

  • In the prior section it is said that BCUC staff investigated 3 -7 post installation incidents in addition to the 12 identified by BC Hydro. Now there are 24 that have been identified. Can you please confirm how many were reviewed?
  • On what basis was the conclusion reached that the “vast majority” appear to be related to damaged or faulty meter sockets? Who reached this conclusion? Please provide his qualifications.
  • Were the smart meters that were involved in these incidents inspected? If yes, by whom?  If yes, how since BC Hydro returns all failed and burned meters to ITRON immediately.
  • Did the review include incidents where the meters were completely destroyed?
  • Is the BCUC willing to share the details of the 24 post installation incidents with me?

Smart meters have not been identified as the likely cause of any of the incidents investigated though they cannot be ruled out with certainty in all cases given the available evidence.

  • What evidence was available and reviewed?  
  • Did the review include the evidence submitted with the complaint which included a local fire report stating that the fire was caused by the smart meter?

Comment: What information does the BCUC have about the failure mechanisms of smart meters? Many of the meters appear to suffer almost complete destruction during an incident.

The disconnect switch is a potential failure mechanism since it is the only moving part in the meter, and there is not a Certification documentation path for this switch. It is being used as a load-interrupting device in the confined enclosure of the meter baseplate.

The Certification data should include the switch’s capability to operate during a short-circuit current flowing through it without damage, the ability of the switch to safely interrupt load current repeatedly, the ability of the switch to continue to operate during a seismic event, the reliability of maintaining absolute electrical isolation between the incoming Utility power and the homeowners’ premises without failing, the ability to operate reliably when called upon by software signals transmitted from a remote location, and other requirements defined in the Electrical Code for “Service Disconnect Switches”. The failure rate of the disconnect switch needs to be published.

This documentation needs to be reviewed for validity by third-party experienced Engineers.

 

Appendix A – Discussion on Hot Sockets

In British Columbia, both BC Hydro and FortisBC have chosen the Itron OpenWay CENTRON II electricity meters for their smart meter programs. Residential and most commercial meters are owned by the utility while the property owner is responsible for providing the meter socket (also referred to as a meter base or meter box). The meter electrically connects to the meter socket via multiple blades that are plugged into spring tensioned jaws shown in the diagrams below.

If the connecting jaws and blades are not tight or the connection is otherwise compromised, electrical heating can occur. In the utility industry this heating is generally referred to as a “hot socket”. Conductor terminations can also be the source of heating. The hot socket issue effects all meter types though it is more likely to result in damage or a fire during or after a meter installation as the meter jaw can be damaged or the electrical connection otherwise compromised during the installation process. Hot sockets are generally a result of a failure of the meter socket, i.e., the home owner’s property, as the meter jaws provide the spring tension required to maintain electrical continuity between the meter and the meter socket.

It is difficult to comprehend how  a meter that is damaged or otherwise compromised during installation by an employee of the Utility which results in a ‘hot socket’ is somehow adjudged to be the responsibility of the homeowner.  As well, since an uncertified, unregulated  digital meter is inserted against the homeowner’s wishes into a certified, regulated, analogue meter base and that this inappropriate conjoining results in a hot socket, by what sense of logic and rationality is that somehow the responsibility of a homeowner who never gave permission for (and might have refused)  the installation?

During installation of a new meter the utility technician or contractor inspects the meter socket and if it appears damaged may make simple repairs. If the damage is beyond the training of the technician they will either call an electrician to make repairs or replace the meter base or notify the owner that repairs need to be made before a meter will be installed. With the increased rate of meter installations associated with smart meter programs and in part from the opposition to them utilities have been focusing more resources on the hot socket issue.  Comment: But not apparently all of the B.C. Utilities.  This focus has led to improved incident reporting,   Comment: The scattered nature of reporting does not justify this statement.    increased detection, expanded safety standards and basic research. Comment: The lack of follow-up after installation precludes using this statement.

It would appear that since the hot socket issue has been such a surprise to the Utility company that it would have been appropriate to do the research before the installation program began instead of after. That it has undertaken this research at all is evidence of the seriousness of this issue and the inappropriateness of putting lives and property in jeopardy while the Utility attempts to fix it on the fly.

It is no surprise that the ‘hot socket’ issue has improved detection and incident reporting.  A meter fire does tend to gain one’s attention and spur that person to action.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) conducted research into hot sockets and published the result in a 2013 study that attempts to quantify the internal temperature of a meter under different operating conditions including load, hot socket temperature and ambient temperature. The objective of the research was to determine detection thresholds and “abnormal” temperature differences that could trigger an inspection and prevent damages to the clients’ installations. The EPRI also exposed meters to hot sockets for a prolonged period of time in an attempt of determining the damages to different meter models for different hot socket temperatures and the “normal” temperature of a hot socket by comparing with returns from the field.18

18 Advanced Meters: Hot Socket Effects and Detection, Electric Power Research Institute, 2013

Comment: The examination by the BCUC of the internal operating temperature of the meters under test and in field conditions is a critical omission from this Report. There are some concerns about the validity of the Manufacturer’s test results such as repeated identical test results and incomplete description of the test conditions. (Were the meters carrying full-load current for all of the time during the tests? Were the two internal RF transmitters operating? Was the meter’s disconnect switch installed in all tests? Was the steady-state ambient temperature during the tests plus 40 Deg C and minus 40 Deg C as is common in electrical performance tests for outdoor equipment? Were the meters exposed to the spray water tests when subjected to these same testing parameters?

The internal meter coil operating temperatures reported by Itron for some meters reached 90.2 Deg C. These testing variables and the testing results are critical items for examination by independent third parties prior to embarking on a multi-million meter unit installation program. There has been some difficulty in obtaining accurate meter test information from BC Hydro. Note that the Tests must be reviewed for realistic conditions, as demonstrated by the failure of Saskatchewan meters tested to UL Standard 2375, and the Summerland meters that failed catastrophically under surge voltage conditions.