A bad day for smart meters in Britain

Smart meters have just become a burning issue, writes Engerati member Nick Hunn.
Published: Thu 10 Aug 2017

The BBC’s Watchdog Live programme has done 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 the programme 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.

Concerns over hasty meter installations

The faults are not ascribed to smart meters themselves, but the haste to meet Government targets to install 53m 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 programme 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.

When a million deaths is a statistic

The British smart metering programme aims to install 53m smart meters.  So, if it carries on at this rate, that will mean 159 incidents for the full rollout.  However, almost all of the 3m installations which BEIS refers to will have been performed by the existing, experienced installation teams which have been doing this for years. 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 noone notices individual houses burning down.

The call for evidence

We need 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.

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