Wireless Smart Meters and Potential for Electrical Fires
Commentary by Cindy Sage, Sage Associates and James J. Biergiel, EMF Electrical
Consultant July 2010
Typical gauge electrical wiring that provides electricity to buildings (60 Hz power) is not
constructed or intended to carry high frequency harmonics that are increasingly present
on normal electrical wiring. The exponential increase in use of appliances, variable
speed motors, office and computer equipment and wireless technologies has greatly
increased these harmonics in community electrical grids and the buildings they serve with
electricity. Harmonics are higher frequencies than 60 Hz that carry more energy, and ride
along on the electrical wiring in bursts. Radio frequency (RF) is an unintentional by-
product on this electrical wiring.
It may be contributing to electrical fires where there is a weak spot (older wiring,
undersized neutrals for the electrical load, poor grounding, use of aluminum conductors,
etc.). The use of smart meters will place an entirely new and significantly increased
burden on existing electrical wiring because of the very short, very high intensity wireless
emissions (radio frequency bursts) that the meters produce to signal the utility about
There have now been electrical fires reported where smart meters have been installed in
several counties in California, in Alabama, and in other countries like New Zealand.
Reports detail that the meters themselves can smoke, smolder and catch fire, they can
explode, or they can simply create over-current conditions on the electrical circuits.
Electrical wiring is not sized for the amount of energy that radio frequency and
microwave radiation have. These unintended signals that can come from new wireless
sources of many kinds are particularly a worry for the new smart meters that produce
very high intensity radio frequency energy in short bursts. Electrical fires are likely to be
a potential problem.
Electrical wiring was never intended to carry this - what amounts to an RF pollutant - on
the wiring. The higher the frequency, the greater the energy contained. It's not the
voltage, but it is the current that matters. RF harmonics on electrical systems can come
from computers, printers, FAX machines, electronic ballasts and other sources like
variable speed motors and appliances that distort the normal, smooth 60 hertz sine wave
Wireless smart meters don't intentionally use the electrical system to send their RF signal
back to the utility (to report energy usage, etc). But, when the wireless signal is produced
in the meterŠ it boomerangs around on all the conductive components and can be
coupled onto the wiring, water and gas lines, etc. where it can be carried to other parts of
properly handle it. The location of the fire does NOT have to be in close proximity to the
main electrical panel where the smart meter is installed.
A forensic team investigating any electrical fire should now be looking for connections to
smart meters as a possible contributing factor to fires. Every electrical fire should be
investigated for the presence of smart meter installation. Were smart meters installed
anywhere in the main electrical panel for this building? For fires that are 'unexplained'
or termed electrical in nature, fire inspectors should check whether smart meters were
installed within the last year or so at the main panel serving the buildings. They should
question contractors and electricians who may have observed damage from the fire such
as damage along a neutral, melted aluminum conductor or other evidence that would
imply an over-current condition. They should also look for a scorched or burned smart
meter, or burn or smoke damage to the area around the smart meter. Problems may be
seen immediately, with a smart meter smoking or exploding. Or, it may be months
before the right conditions prevail and a neutral circuit overloads and causes a fire. The
fire may or may not be right at the smart meter.
* Any smart meter installed in a main panel might start an electrical fire in that building;
it would not be necessary for the unit itself to have a smart meter. The RF emissions
from any smart meter in the main panel might trigger an electrical fire at any location in
the building served by this main panel because harmonics can and will travel anywhere
on electrical wiring of that building.
Some questions that should be asked include:
* Were smart meters installed in the main electrical panel for this building? Problems
may be seen immediately, with a smart meter smoking or exploding. Or, it may be
months before the right conditions prevail and a neutral circuit overloads and causes a
fire. The fire may or may not be at the smart meter.
* Is there damage at the smart meter itself (burning, scorching, explosion)?
* Was there fire damage, a source, or a suspicious area around the neutral where it
connected to the main panel or at the breaker panel?
* Was the damage around a lug at a connection on the neutral conductor in the attic at
Xanadu? Was there any indication of heating or scorching or other thermal damage
around the neutral in the area of the fire?
* Was aluminum conductor present? Aluminum conductors that were installed in the
'70s are today recognized as more of a problem for heating than copper wire. Was the
aluminum, if present, showing heat damage or melting?
Even before smart meters were being installed widely in California, people who know
already postulated, and of concern, is that the rising use of equipment that put RF
harmonics onto the electrical wiring of buildings may overload that wiring. Faulty
wiring, faulty grounding or over-burdened electrical wiring may be unable to take the
 Advanced Metering Infrastructure; January 2010 Semi-Annual Assessment Report
and SmartMeter Program Quarterly Report (Updated), Pacific Gas and Electric