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It’s been a bad day for Smart Meters in Britain

July 27th, 2017 |  Published in Smart Energy  |  4 Comments

This evening, the BBC’s Watchdog Live programme did a follow up to its previous investigation on fires that have potentially been caused by poorly executed installations of smart meters.  Since the original investigation they’ve been contacted by more people affected and tonight showed the devastating consequences for two families, whose homes had been gutted by fire – one from a faulty gas meter installation, and the second attributed to a faulty electricity meter installation.

The faults are not ascribed to smart meters themselves, but the haste to meet Government targets to install 53 million new meters by 2020.  Because of multiple delays in the deployment programme, the industry is having to treble the number of installers, which is raising concerns for the safety of installations and has resulted in calls for a review of the timescales for installation.

Despite four requests, Greg Clark, the Minister for Hiding Things and not Admitting the Truth, who moonlights as the Energy Secretary, had refused to go onto the program or provide any explanation.  Presumably, because so far, these have been largely unreported events.  What Watchdog Live has done is to bring them to the public attention.

An interesting statistic they provided was from BEIS – The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  They said that in the first six months of 2017 “only 18 incidents had been reported out of 3 million installations”.  That is one of those statistics which seem innocuous and reassuring at first glance, but start to get very worrying when you look at what’s underneath.

The British smart metering programme aims to install 53 million smart meters.  So, if it carries on at this rate, that will mean 159 incidents for the full rollout.  However, almost all of the 3 million installations which BEIS refer to will have been performed by the existing, experienced installation teams which have been doing this for year.  It’s only now that the newly trained installers are starting to come into the picture.  If we assume they may result in a doubling of the mis-fitting rate, (which is probably conservative), that would lead to just over 300 incidents we can expect over the next three years.

That’s 300 occasions where a house, flat or apartment may burn down.  The tragic fire at Grenfell Towers destroyed 98 apartments, so, based on BEIS’ numbers, we are looking at the equivalent of one Grenfell Tower disaster per year for the next three years.  Whilst that might feel like a glib comparison, it won’t feel like that for each of those people who lose their home.  Stalin was alleged to have said that “A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic”.  It appears that Greg Clark’s equivalent is that “an individual fire can be ignored, a Grenfell Tower changes party policy”.  So he’s content to hide and carry on with the smart metering deployment in the hope that no-one notices individual houses burning down.

We need far more information about how these installations are progressing.  As this issue has not been raised, it’s unlikely that the fire service or the National Grid (who deal with gas emergencies) are specifically attributing incidents to smart meter installations, where that is appropriate.  That needs to be corrected, so that we can get a far better handle on the effect of the massive influx of new installers.  The industry perception is that they pose a risk, but we have no clear evidence and it is vital that we capture it.

There is a desperate need to review safety in this programme.  It is not a smart meter issue per se, but a consequence of the rush to an unachievable political target, which many in the industry have been highlighting for years as an unacceptable danger.

The message from Watchdog Live was clear.  Until common sense is applied to this mad rush to install, householders should not accept the offer of a smart meter.  Your home is far more important than Mr Clark’s obsession with a political tick-box.




#1 Rich G on 07.28.17 at 4:21 pm

There’s an implication here that an incident equals a death, and I’m not sure that it does. It could be a house that catches fire but is only damaged with no loss of life, for example. Certainly tragic for those involved, but not nearly as tragic as you would have your readers believe.
But let’s say that an incident is actually a fatality. Basically you are saying there is a 1 in 333,333 chance of a death occurring from a smart meter. To put that into perspective, there is a 1 in 2,232 chance of fatally slipping in a tub or shower. If you are really wanting to call people to action, that would be a better place to start.

#2 Nick on 07.28.17 at 4:28 pm

Agreed, but we have the political approach that individual items don’t really matter; it’s only when you put them together that it triggers a knee jerk reaction. What I would like to see is evidence being collected that informs policy. This whole programme has been totally devoid of that.

I still think that smart metering is a good thing. However, the way it is being done in Britain will just give us meters which provide no benefit and add cost to everyone’s energy bills. If something like the Watchdog report helps trigger a review, that will be a useful step forward.

#3 LR Floyd on 09.30.17 at 2:57 am

In case you haven’t read it yet, here’s the latest 3-year, in-depth Fire Report from Sharon Noble:

BCUC & Smart Meter Fires: The Failure to Protect

I believe this is the only report on smart meter fires from anywhere in the world.

Will our government do anything to keep British Columbians safe?

#4 Nick on 10.02.17 at 10:38 am

Thanks very much for that. Interesting reading, and I suspect that many of the conclusions apply to what’s happening in the UK, as I see no central body responsible for coordinating and logging reports of issues.

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About Creative Connectivity

Creative Connectivity is Nick Hunn's blog on aspects and applications of wireless connectivity. Having worked with wireless for over twenty years I've seen the best and worst of it and despair at how little of its potential is exploited.

I hope that's about to change, as the demands of healthcare, energy and transport apply pressure to use wireless more intelligently for consumer health devices, smart metering and telematics. These are my views on the subject - please let me know yours.

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