Of black cats, stats and Smart Meters
The world of Smart Meter opponents is abuzz with the news that a Mission home burned down just after a new meter was installed.
For some, this is a simple matter of one-to-one correlation. New meter, plus fire from near the meter, equals bad meters! This is a new avenue of indignation for those who believe A) that the new meters will melt their brains or B) that they will cause Hydro to jack up power rates.
BC Hydro, of course, says the fire is no fault of theirs. It’s the homeowner’s meter base that is at fault, they say.
In the absence of, say, a full CSI-style investigation and Royal Commission to decide the matter, how worried should we be?
Let’s consider all the possible reasons for the fire:
– All smart meters are faulty and could burn down homes.
This would be a dire situation, as it would mean that the residents of 1.5 million homes and businesses are at risk. That’s how many new meters have been installed.
If this is the only fire caused by a meter so far, that’s a very, very low failure rate. Even if there had been 150 fires across B.C. confirmed to be linked to Smart Meters, we’d be seeing a failure rate of just one in 10,000.
The fact that we haven’t seen a massive increase in fires suggests it isn’t an issue. But it might only show up over decades, and require serious data analysis to determine.
That leads us to: – Some fraction of smart meters are faulty How many? And why? Are they being assembled improperly? Is it a single component?
It’s almost certain that some meters are faulty, just as we know that a small percentage of the most reliable brand of cars will turn out to be lemons.
– Smart meter installation was faulty This could be an issue of training – are the installers doing their jobs correctly? If not, how often are they screwing up? If an installer’s dog dies and his wife leaves him, will he mess up and burn down a dozen homes in a day?
Interestingly, BC Hydro says they have found and fixed faulty wiring in about 1,000 homes during installations.
This presents a side issue: even if in this one case an improper installation created a fire hazard, has BC Hydro reduced the number of house fires that would have otherwise occurred?
In other words, if an installer screws up once and causes a fire hazard, is it worth it if he or she also finds and corrects 10 electrical faults?
– It’s statistical noise This is the notion that BC Hydro is correct – the fire had nothing to do with the meter, or its installation, and the house would have burned down regardless.
This goes against our gut instincts, but it’s how the world works. Take seven billion people, shake well, and set assorted traumas loose. Coincidences will abound.
If a black cat crosses your path, and within minutes you step on a rusty nail, you tend to remember the association. You don’t remember all your previous encounters with cats that weren’t followed by a tetanus shot, or the bad luck that was feline-free.
So what would I suggest? If there’s even a chance that the meter or installation procedure is at fault, we should look into it.
The costs of having an outside expert look at a random sampling of meters is well below the cost of a massive recall, or even one death in a fire. Due diligence is never a bad idea.
But one fire does not prove a thing. Until we get more info, I’d say replace the batteries in your smoke alarm, and don’t worry too much.
Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance.