Jul 28, 2014
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ComEd: Smart Meter Installation Causes Three Area House Fires

Devices blamed for small fires in River Forest and Berwyn.

ComEd: Smart Meter Installation Causes Three Area House Fires

The installation of smart meters, the devices promising customers real-time information about peak electricity use, has caused three small fires in area homes, ComEd has confirmed.

The utility giant in a statement said the small residential fires, two in River Forest and one in Berwyn, weren't caused by faulty meters. The problem "was related to fitting and connection issues with an older-model socket that had a poor connection at the point where the customer's wires and ComEd's wires meet."

Related:

According to Crain's Chicago Business, which broke the story last week, ComEd has nonetheless replaced the meters in those homes. And the company said it's performing daily temperature scans on all smart meters.

And it's not the first time the devices have been linked with troubling malfunctions. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Peco Energy Co.,which like ComEd is owned by the Exelon Corp. stopped its smart meter installation in suburban Philadelphia after 15 of some 186,000 devices overheated, including one that set fire to a home.

Here in Chicagoland, ComEd has installed about 130,000 smart meters. Oak Park has been the test ground for ComEd's multi-billion dollar smart grid system, beginning with the creation of the company's first intelligent substation, profiled in this Jan. 2012 Chicago News Cooperative story.

The smart meters are among the first steps toward the so-called Smart Grid, which among other features is designed to cut down on the length of power outages and improve reliability.

Meanwhile, the head of the Illinois Commerce Commission has requested more information on the fires, Crain's reports.

Full ComEd statement:

ComEd customers can be assured that we are taking every precaution possible to ensure their safety and satisfaction. We are working hand-in-hand with our PECO colleagues to understand and apply their key learnings here in northern Illinois.

ComEd has installed digital smart meters at approximately 130,000 homes and businesses. Since installation began in 2009, we have seen a limited number of issues related to elevated heating. We take these issues extremely seriously and, in each case, have taken steps to get to the bottom of the issues to ensure customer safety.

ComEd has experienced three smart meter events that resulted in damage to metering equipment and to the immediate area around the meter due to small fires. We had two independent testing laboratories inspect the damaged meters. Testing determined that the smart meter design was not the cause of the problem. The cause was related to fitting and connection issues with an older-model socket that had a poor connection at the point where the customer’s wires and ComEd’s wires meet. (All three smart meters were installed in the same type of socket.) ComEd technicians will look out for and modify the connection point when needed during full deployment of smart meters. Investigation of the third meter event is under way.

Whether installing smart meters or analog meters, it is not uncommon to encounter connection issues from existing conditions with customer-owned equipment due to loose fittings and corrosion. ComEd field inspections and proactive temperature scans identified 15 connection issues that resulted in higher than normal heat conditions causing damage to the smart meter. All of these meters were operational but ComEd replaced them nonetheless. None of the incidents were related to meter design.

Although ComEd is working with a different meter manufacturer than PECO, and we have not seen any evidence of a meter thermal design issue with our meters, we are taking advantage of the lessons learned at PECO and taking additional measures for the benefit and safety of our customers. ComEd is performing daily temperature scans on existing smart meters as standard operating procedure, which enables us to proactively identify heat-related issues that might require on-site inspection and service. We also are working closely with our meter vendors to assess the full history of their smart meter experience. We are sending the meter designs we use in our ComEd program to independent testing organizations to ensure they meet ComEd specifications. The independent equipment testing will be completed before we begin additional smart meter installation early next year. In addition, we are keeping our customers, employees and regulators apprised of the situation, as we continue this process.

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