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Smart meter installation not possible due to an earth leakage trip switch?


I am looking for some advice regarding my elderly father's meter installation.

My father had a letter from SSE advising him that he needed to have a smart meter installed because the radio switching service that controls his off-peak storage radiators is expected to be de-commissioned next March. My father agreed to the installation and I arranged to be present.

In the event, the installer declined to fit a smart meter on the grounds that there is an earth leakage trip switch on the supplier side of the meter (installed by the Southern Electricity Board in the 1970s) and it is now policy to install trip switches on the customer side of the meter. He suggested that we either employ an electrician to move/replace the trip switch or manage without the smart meter. He pointed out that the off peak switching is managed by a clock and so is not affected by the radio switching issue.

I was surprised that the householder would be responsible for wiring on the supplier side of the meter but when I contacted SSE they confirmed that this is the case. I indicated that in that case we would probably do without a smart meter but was told that even though the switching is not radio-controlled, SSE may still disconnect my father's heating next March. I suspect this is a bluff but as my father is in his nineties it is worrying.

Has anyone else encountered this situation?

I can post a picture of my father's existing meters and wiring if it helps.
 

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Best answer by Lukepeniket_OVO 16 August 2022, 18:40

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Userlevel 7
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Howdy @ID_South !

Just want to let you know that I’m one of the forum volunteers, so everything I post is independent of what OVO or SSE says. If you could post those photos, that would help a lot. :)

If you could post those photos, that would help a lot. :)

Hi Blastoise,

Here is the photo:

Existing setup for standard supply and night storage heating

 

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Thanks! That helps a lot.

Please bear with me for just a few more hours. This seems like a complicated install and circumstances, so I need to check a few things first.

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Hi @ID_South and thanks for giving us so much info and a piccy to go on. 

 

Based on the guide below, I’m surprised the engineer suggested an electrician would be the one to perform the work of moving anything from the main fuse side of the meter. However I’m not sure what a earth leakage trip switch is or the latest engineer policy on it.

 

@PeterR1947 does this sound like the sort of job an electrician might be expected to do?

 

This is a good guide outlining usual responsibilities for work around the electricity supply:

 

 

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Ok, having considered my own response as well, I’ve decided that I probably need moderator approval before I can post it here for reasons that I’ll explain later.

Please bear with me while I seek that all important approval and I’ll be back if I get it. Thanks for understanding!

Thanks Tim - I will have a read through that guide. Thanks also for your efforts Blastoise - I look forward to reading your response when you get approval.

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No worries. :)

While I wait for that to happen, I will say that your current meters look pretty old and might be up for re-certification sooner or later. I know I can say that pretty safely at least. There’s also a few things I can post as well without needing approval, so I’ll go as far as I can.

SSE may still disconnect my father's heating next March

 

Erm… I don’t think so. I’m not seeing any signs of a Radio Teleswitch in this particular installation, so the only way SSE could disconnect you is if they came round in-person and physically rip out the existing equipment. Trust me, I’d know if you had one as it takes me very little time to identify those devices!

If it were me, the main reason I’d accept a smart meter upgrade for this particular installation would be to simplify the wiring because what you’ve got right now is a horrible mess of spaghetti going all over the place. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but I think it’d allow you to get rid of maybe 12 cables in this case?

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WARNING! POSSIBLE SAFETY ISSUES DETECTED!

Upon further analysis of the image you posted using my tools, I think I’ve found a few problems that may need to be rectified.

You appear to have exposed copper on some of the cables in that photo - in particular one of the green cables in the top right corner - you might want to ask a qualified electrician to take a look just to be safe.

Some of the cables also seem to be damaged somewhat - some of the sleeves appear to be missing or not completely protecting the cables. This isn’t too bad in your case as there’s still another layer before you get close to copper, but worth bearing in mind.

I’ll keep looking in case there’s anything else. If there is, I’ll update this comment.

the only way SSE could disconnect you is if they came round in-person and physically rip out the existing equipment.

 

Yes, I thought that would be the case and certainly the installer implied the set-up could continue running satisfactorily without a SMART meter. It was only when I phoned SSE to discuss the situation that I was warned that they 'might or might not' disconnect the heating next March even though there was no radio switching involved. They have already identified my father as vulnerable so I asked them to add a note to his account that disconnecting his heating would be unacceptable. I think/hope they would not do anything so drastic.

 

If it were me, the main reason I’d accept a smart meter upgrade for this particular installation would be to simplify the wiring 

 

Initially both my father & I were agnostic about the benefits of a SMART meter. However, it would result in a move from his current legacy tariff to Economy 7 which, at current prices, should benefit my father by about £300 per year. So providing it could be achieved without much expense or disruption we would be keen. However, the installer reckoned moving the trip switch would likely cost a lot more than £300 so reckoned we could be better off just leaving it as it is. I believe that most of the spaghetti has been unchanged since the 1970s with the exception of the white consumer unit in the bottom right corner which I think was added in recent years to support an electric shower.

 

 

 

You appear to have exposed copper on some of the cables in that photo - in particular one of the green cables in the top right corner

I see it and will take a closer look on my next visit. However, if the green cable is an earth cable does it matter if the copper is exposed?

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The Earth leakage trip switch functions like an RCD in a modern consumer unit although I have to say I have never seen one actually connected in the thousands of houses where I have read meters during my retirement!

Obviously the very old Fuseboard, because that is what it used to be until someone fitted plug-in MCBs ,could really do with replacement but as your Dad is in his nineties you might decide not to do that.

I would however suggest that you do consider a modern Consumer unit which would be fitted with MCBs and this would be much safer that the current installation, you could also do away with the earth leakage switch at the same time.

As far as the question goes about which parts the DNO should change and which part the electrician should change, DNO’s are becoming much more lenient with this, for example when my V2G system was installed the electrician was allowed to withdraw the main fuse, fit an isolation switch, meter tails and various Henley blocks for the wiring as per my picture.

Years ago, this wouldn’t have been allowed, the DNO would send an electrician to withdraw the mail fuse, the local electrician would complete his work and the DNO man would return to reinsert the main fuse.  DNOs quickly realised that this wasn’t an efficient use of their workforce!

 

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From my understanding, if it’s an earth cable, exposed copper isn’t quite as scary as it would be on a neutral or live cable, but still not ideal. I think the main risk would come from if that cable gets energised by something and then you touch the copper at the same time. Unlikely, but not impossible.

the very old Fuseboard, because that is what it used to be until someone fitted plug-in MCBs ,could really do with replacement but as your Dad is in his nineties you might decide not to do that.

 

I think you have hit the nail on the head. If it were my house I would see it as an opportunity to tidy up and a worthwhile investment. However, my father is now of the mindset that anything that is not urgent can wait until after he is gone.

It's a shame because just fitting the SMART meter would rationalise some of the wiring (as Blastoise has pointed out). As I understand it, the objection to the current location of the trip switch is on policy not safety grounds - so does SSE not have any discretion to fit the SMART with the trip switch still in place?

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 As I understand it, the objection to the current location of the trip switch is on policy not safety grounds

 

And that’s where it gets complicated for me. I don’t know the policy either I’m afraid, but I do have reason to think that this arrangement is more vulnerable to a certain type of risk that I’m not keen to talk about openly. All I can say is that this particular risk has basically been eliminated in newer setups where the switch is on the other side.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that, but I don’t want to risk anyone else getting ideas. Having had a chat with a moderator, I felt that this strikes a reasonable balance between giving you useful advice and not encouraging abuse by anyone else.

Don’t worry though - they will alert me privately if they feel I’m giving too much away.

  I do have reason to think that this arrangement is more vulnerable to a certain type of risk

 

Well, as a result of some previous googling, I had read an explanation why it is now policy not to install isolator switches prior to the meter and I guess exactly the same logic applies to trip switches. So I won't discuss the explanation here. However, do you think there is any possibility of finding someone at SSE who might be able to make an exception in this case?

 

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Could you send me that explanation by PM by any chance? I won’t share it anywhere, but I’m just curious if it matches up with what I know. You can access my PM’s via my profile here.

As for making exceptions? Erm… I really don’t know to be honest. All I can say is that I don’t think you can get an exemption easily.

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From my understanding, if it’s an earth cable, exposed copper isn’t quite as scary as it would be on a neutral or live cable, but still not ideal. I think the main risk would come from if that cable gets energised by something and then you touch the copper at the same time. Unlikely, but not impossible.

It looks to me as though the wire I think you are referring to Blastoise is terminated onto an earth block which is exposed anyway; as long as the earth is maintained, I think it’s unlikely that this could become live

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Ok, just so that other people know, myself and @ID_South did discuss that matter out the back and agreed it’s best to keep that information private.

However, after chatting with the moderators, I’m going to play a joker card and introduce you to @Lukepeniket_OVO . If anyone can solve this puzzle, our resident engineer certainly can!

Userlevel 5

If you could post those photos, that would help a lot. :)

Hi Blastoise,

Here is the photo:

Existing setup for standard supply and night storage heating

 

 

Hello, a lot to digest on this one, your biggest issue is the Earth Leakage Device between the cutout and meter and you’re right its not something us engineers can touch.

 

It's a lovely restricted hour setup aswell hence the two meters, small grey meter for domestic supply and the black meter with mechanical time clock for the heating/hot water. Due to it being mechanical time clock we won't be turning off any radio signals to that as it doesn't use it.

 

The only way to resolve and get a smart meter installed is to have both one of our engineers and a electrician on site at the same time.

Thanks for the information. I will discuss with my father when I next visit but I suspect he will be happy enough that his heating will continue to work beyond next March and will probably prefer to leave the SMART meter for the future to take care of.

Userlevel 5

I would agree bud, restricted hour setups are brilliant tariffs aswell.

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