SaskPower inspires recall of smart meters

Ontario's Electrical Safety Authority cites due diligence in ordering removal
Friday, January 23, 2015

Ontario’s Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) has ordered removal of approximately 5,400 smart meters similar to those subject to a province-wide recall in Saskatchewan. Although there have been no reported safety incidents involving the product model known as Sensus 3.2 with remote disconnect, the directive has been issued as preventative due diligence following an investigation into eight fires in Saskatchewan last year.

“ESA has concluded that this model is susceptible to a specific type of failure: arcing within the components if water/moisture and other contaminants get into the meter,” states a Jan. 22 release from the safety authority. “(This order) does not apply to the Sensus 3.2 meter without the remote disconnect feature, which has a different component design and therefore is not susceptible to the same type of failure.”

Targeted devices represent a tiny fraction of the approximately 4.8 million smart meters now in service in the province, meaning that only 11 of Ontario’s 70+ local distribution companies (LDCs) will have to act to comply with the order by March 31, 2015.

Sarnia’s Bluewater Power Distribution will have to oversee nearly 3,500 replacements or about 65 per cent of the existing installations. No customers of the province’s largest LDCs — including Hydro One, Toronto Hydro, Hydro Ottawa, PowerStream, Enersource Hydro Mississauga, Horizon Utilities Corporation and Veridian — are affected.

Saskatchewan’s replacement scenario has been more extensive and costly. There, the provincial electricity utility, SaskPower, is working toward a March 15, 2015 deadline to complete the removal of 105,000 Sensus 3.3 meters in residential and commercial premises. Under an agreement negotiated late last summer, Sensus has refunded SaskPower’s $24-million original purchase costs, provided an $18-million credit for future purchases and committed $5 million to developing a new model of meter, which SaskPower may opt to use.

An engineer’s report from Ritenburg & Associates Ltd. — conducted last fall in conjunction with the Saskatchewan government’s review of the fires and other issues related to SaskPower’s smart meter contracting process — concluded that the meters’ inadequate seals in combination with heavy rainfalls had been a common factor in the eight fires. “There was no evidence to suggest a problem with either the sockets or the competency of the installation crews,” the associated final report from Saskatchewan’s Crown Investment Corporation (CIC) states.

Utilities in the United States, including Portland General Electric and Philadelphia Electric Company, have also ordered replacement of Sensus meters. Indeed, the CIC report advises that SaskPower should have given more vigilant consideration to earlier American experiences. SaskPower’s CEO, Robert Watson, resigned after the report’s release.

“The vast, vast majority of the more than 60 million smart meters installed here have caused no such problems,” notes Lindsay Audin, a U.S.-based energy management specialist. “Only the Sensus meters had any significant problem related to fires, and most in the U.S. were replaced more than a year ago.”

As for the promised next generation of meter, the Ritenburg report noted several features of the prototype Sensus 4 that should make it both more watertight and drainable than the previous model. It also offers a comparison with a competing product.

“Landis & Gyr have used a gasket around the plastic cover to prevent moisture intrusion. The higher voltage components were separated from the micro-electronic components to provide a further degree of isolation,” the reports states. “Generally the Landis & Gyr meter utilizes more robust materials than the Sensus meter, although it lacks some of the electronic features offered by Sensus.”

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