Fraud Alert! Ask pointed questions when you suspect a scam

Published On
Oct 15, 2021

To many people outside the industry, the electrical world is an unknown entity where power is mostly there when they need it, but can be very scary. Questions about electrical installations and applications may be difficult to answer at times, and easy at others, depending on the issue.

As a former electrician and a life-long electrical educator, I have fielded and answered electrical questions from electricians, electrical contractors, electrical inspectors, business owners and homeowners. Every question is important, and an answer—correct or incorrect—can affect an electrical system’s safety. Care must be exercised to completely analyze the question and provide a complete and thorough answer.

Over the years, I have fielded questions about electrical installations and equipment that are borderline illegal or complete scams. As electrical contractors, we must all be careful not to become part of these scams by agreeing to install questionable or potentially illegal systems. Always thoroughly investigate any new idea brought to you, since there are way too many flimflam artists out there waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting home and business owners.

Warning bells

When I worked at Underwriters Laboratories, a friend wanted to invest in a new, unique product that claimed to save electrical power by reducing the amount of energy recorded at the power company meter. My friend asked me to join a conference call with the product’s electrical design engineer and inventor, and I agreed to listen to the sales pitch and technical explanation.

The product engineer mentioned that this new product was listed by UL, and I asked for the identifying number UL assigned. While on the call, I accessed the information for that product number. It turned out the product number was for a solid-state device that had nothing to do with this new power-saving product. This set off my internal warning bells.

When I questioned this discrepancy, I was told that the product was actually listed by a wholly owned subsidiary of UL, another listing agency, which I knew to be totally untrue.

The electrical design engineer and inventor went on to state that this device was designed to store harmonic energy generated within a building until it could be used at a future time. It would decrease power usage by using the stored harmonic energy to supply loads inside the building, thereby reducing the amount of energy recorded on the meter.

It was designed to be connected on the line or the load side of the service main, and the engineer stated that conductors provided with the product were intended to be connected by installing them under the incoming line-side terminal blocks. I told him that this would be a violation of 110.14(A) because of the last sentence requiring terminals for more than one conductor to be identified for two or more conductors. Most service main terminals are designed for only one conductor.

The product engineer mentioned that most electrical contractors would not have these installations inspected, so compliance with 110.14(A) would probably not be a problem. Ding ding ding! I explained that legitimate electrical contractors would need to have a permit and have the installation inspected by an electrical inspector. The designer/inventor told me that they had sold thousands of these devices without a single problem from an installing EC or negative comment from an electrical inspector.

Electrical impossibilities

I then questioned the technical aspects of storing harmonics and the concept of using harmonics to reduce a facility’s peak power usage. He told me the technical design was proprietary so he could not give me any details about it. He told me that the internal components were in a fairly large enclosure filled with a potting compound during manufacturing, which provided heat dissipation and ensured the product could not be duplicated by anyone.

He stated that the harmonics were stored in large special capacitors designed for the frequencies generated from the primary or fundamental frequency of 60 hertz (Hz) and was converted from multiples of frequency, such as the third harmonic, or 180 Hz, back to 60 Hz. Cue the warning bells again, because this is electrically impossible!

When any electrical products such as these are brought to an electrical contractor, do the proper background investigation. Don’t be taken in by these scam artists.

About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and Mark.C.Ode@ul.com.

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