Six takeaways from NV Energy smart meter documents

Six takeaways from NV Energy smart meter documents

State regulators are in the midst of reviewing hundreds of records from NV Energy as part of an inquiry into whether the smart meters installed on 1.3 million Nevada homes and businesses are a fire hazard.

The Public Utilities Commission has said it likely will take until the end of March to complete its review of the records.

The inquiry was launched at the request of two local fire chiefs, who are concerned the smart meter flame-outs are a danger to homes and businesses after about a dozen incidents. Fire investigators have not found the meters, which were the origin of the fires, to be the definitive cause. Most of the incidents involved very little damage to the property.

The Reno Gazette-Journal has combed through most of the documents and interviewed top NV Energy officials involved in the smart meter project.

Here are our top six takeaways from the information NV Energy submitted:

1. The number of meter fires, or as NV Energy calls them 'consumed meters,' is very, very small.

Out of the 1.24 million smart meters installed in Nevada, only 77 have gone up in flames. That's a "consumed meter" rate of .006 percent.

NV Energy has logged every meter malfunction in its system since the start of the project in 2011, and says that its overall failure rate is below the expected industry standard of 0.5 percent.

Still, other jurisdictions have had a similarly low "consumed meter" rate with the same brand of Sensus smart meters, which prompted massive recalls of the devices. In Saskatchewan, authorities removed 105,000 meters after .007 percent of them caught fire. In Philadelphia, meters were removed after .008 percent of them flamed out.

2. If your meter hasn't caught fire yet, it's even less likely to do so.

According to NV Energy's statistics, your meter has just a .006 percent chance of being consumed. A consumed meter can be anything from a melted plastic housing to a "spectacular manifestation" of flame and smoke shooting from the device.

But the utility also found that as time goes by, the probability of a consumed meter diminishes.

The majority of consumed meters occurred within 15 months of installation. Only five of the 77 occurred after 30 months.

NV Energy officials says that's good news. By March, 86 percent of all meters will be more than 30 months old.

3. Only one of the 12 types of meters installed in Nevada is catching fire.

NV Energy has installed a dozen different types of meters in Nevada, depending on the needs of the customer. Only one of the 12 is actually bursting into flame.

The bad news is that the one with the problem accounts for the vast majority 1,088,000 of the 1.2 million of the meters installed in the state. The meter is commonly referred to as the Gen 3 Sensus brand meter with a remote disconnect switch.

NV Energy says it's a numbers game. With such a low failure rate, it's to be expected that fewer to no problems are occurring with the meters that account for just a fraction of those installed.

4. If your meter does catch fire, it will be replaced with a meter that so far hasn't had any problems in Nevada.

When NV Energy first went to bid with the smart meter project, it planned to use Sensus for 70 percent of its meters and Landis + Gyr for 30 percent of its meters.

Sensus was able to manufacture ready-to-use meters more quickly, while NV Energy had to spend a considerable amount of time engineering a way for the Landis + Gyr meters to communicate with its network. That lag posed a significant problem to NV Energy, which was using federal grant money to install the meters. That grant had strict deadlines for installation or the money would have disappeared.

Thus, the vast majority of meters are Sensus meters.

But for new homes, or for homes that need a new meter, NV Energy will be using Landis + Gyr meters.

That doesn't necessarily mean they are flameproof. Landis + Gyr meters have had consumed meters in other jurisdictions, but not Nevada.

5.Safer meters are being built, but won't be installed in Nevada anytime soon.

According to the documents submitted by NV Energy, the meter manufacturer Sensus is implementing a number of fire protection improvements in its "Gen 4" meter.

Those improvements include using plastic with a higher flammability rating and "an enhanced meter base" that better protects against water intrusion, which is a culprit in many of the consumed meters.

The new meters also include "industry-leading temperature detection equipment," which can sound an alarm or shut off the meter before it overheats. (NV Energy is rolling out an update that will improve the heat sensor alarms on its existing meters this month.)

But NV Energy customers won't benefit from those improvements anytime soon. For now, meters that need replacing will be replaced with Landis + Gyr meters that NV Energy has already purchased.

6. The old meters failed, too, but not as spectacularly.

Since the Reno Gazette-Journal started reporting on the smart meter fires, a number of readers have asked how the new meters stack up against the old analog meters that had to be read on site.

That data is finally in. Sort of.

NV Energy did not track analog meter failures in Northern Nevada at all. In Southern Nevada, they tracked the analog meter failures differently than they do the smart meter failures.

But here's how they compare: In the last four years, 8,197 smart meters failed in Southern Nevada, while 8,623 analog meters failed in the last four years tracked by the company.

Analog meters also suffered from some of the same conditions that result in the smart meters flaming out: hot sockets, water intrusion or over voltage.

But those meters were made of glass and metal materials, and did not include the electronics that smart meters do. As such, they "better contained" the flame and smoke from an arcing event.

Source: Reno-Gazette-Journal

SMART GRID Bulletin March 2017

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