Smart meters are modern gas and electricity meters designed to give you more information about your energy use and make topping up more convenient.
Smart meters are being installed by energy suppliers across the UK. They come in two parts: firstly, there’s the meter itself (below, left) which replaces your existing meter and records how much gas or electricity you use (and when you use it) and sends this information to your energy supplier. The second part is the ‘in-home display’ (below, right) that gives you near-real-time information about your energy use.
The financial benefits
Smart meters offer several financial benefits, both for people who pay regular bills and those who pay by topping-up.
Credit meters: Smart meters send readings to your energy supplier automatically, so they no longer need to visit your home to take meter readings. Nor will they ask you to take meter readings yourself, or send you bills and statements based on estimated readings. This should mean that you are always charged the right amount for the gas or electricity you’ve used.
Prepayment meters: Smart prepayment meters give you the option to top-up remotely by phone, text, app or online, so you won’t need to visit a local paypoint as before (although topping up this way is still possible). This means that you won’t run out of gas or electricity if you have no credit left and the local paypoint is closed, or if you misplace your prepayment key or card. Some suppliers might also give you the option of automatically topping-up if your credit drops below a certain amount, or include an emergency credit button on your in-home display.
The benefits of in-home displays are discussed in more depth below, but these allow you to keep track of how much energy you are using in real-time, and can help you make adjustments with what you use around the home to keep the costs down. For prepayment meters in-home displays should show how much credit you have left, if there is any debt and allows you to set goals and budgets.
Smart meters can operate in both a prepay and credit mode. This makes it much easier to swap from pay-as-you-go to monthly or quarterly bills, or back. Your meter won’t need to be changed to do this, although your supplier may still need to visit to make the adjustment.
Finally, smart prepay meters are helping to create a smart grid that allows the energy system to better predict how much electricity the country needs, when and where it needs it. This helps conserve energy and make usage more efficient across the UK network.
The in-home display
All smart meters should come with an in-home display. This is a separate small device with a screen that you can put wherever you want in your home (preferably where you can see it).
The in-home display receives data from the meter and so lets you see your energy usage and costs in real-time. It shows you how much energy you are using (in kilowatts) or how much you are spending (in pounds and pence) at any moment, or you can view your usage or spending for the whole day, week, month or year.
The advantage of this is you can keep an eye on your gas or electricity usage and costs, such as using it to help you to identify situations where you’re using a lot of energy and might want to make changes to reduce it. This can also help you find out how much energy different appliances are using at home.
Different energy suppliers may use different in-home displays, but they all provide similar information. Some suppliers also allow you to monitor usage through their an account on their website or a smart phone app.
Accessible in-home displays are being developed for partially-sighted and blind customers. Features include tactile buttons, a high-contrast screen, and speech output options.
Some things to be aware of
There are two generations of smart meters available, known as SMETS1 (1st generation) and SMETS2 (2nd generation), and the only difference between them is how they send data. Most common problems occurring with the 1st generation meters are due to this, while the 2nd generation meters solve switching and coverage issues.
Although SMETS2 meters are now being installed, some suppliers are still installing SMETS1 meters. It is worth asking your supplier which generation meter they can install at your home. If they are only offering SMETS1 meters this is not too problematic as an ‘over the airwaves’ update will soon be released to upgrade the functionality of these meters.
Not all energy suppliers are currently offering smart prepayment meters, and you may need to call your supplier or check online to see if they are. However, all energy suppliers will be offering them soon.
Finally, if you really don’t want a smart meter, you don’t have to accept one. However, some suppliers are now offering energy tariffs that include a compulsory smart meter installation, so by choosing to not accept one you may be limiting your choice of tariffs.
Having a smart meter installed
Smart meter installation is a straightforward process and should take less than an hour, depending on what kind of building you live in and where your meter is situated. Note that the gas or electricity will have to be switched off temporarily during installation.
Your energy supplier will arrange with you a date and approximate time for an engineer to visit. They will confirm with you what to expect, how long it will take, whether there’s anything you need to do (such as clear access to the meter) and what support is available for customers with hearing or vision impairment.
You can also request that the engineer calls you 30 minutes before they expect to arrive. For added security, you can ask your energy supplier for a password which the engineer must repeat when they arrive at your home. If you have any concerns, check the engineer’s ID card and, if you’re still in doubt, ask them to wait outside while you call your energy supplier.
The engineer will advise you on how the smart meter and in-home display work. They will also carry out safety checks on gas appliances if a gas smart meter is being installed.
Requesting a smart meter
There is no charge for having a smart meter installed. Contact your energy supplier and ask for a smart meter, or type your supplier name into this web tool.
Common smart meter myths
There are many misconceptions around about smart meters. We have addressed some of the common ones below …
“Not all homes can have smart meters”
Installation is possible in 99% of homes since connectivity has been improved for the newest generation of smart meters, and no longer relies on the mobile network.
“You can’t switch supplier”
The latest generation of smart meters allow uninterrupted switching between suppliers with no loss of functionality. This is because they use the new shared Data Communications Company (DCC) network.
“Smart meters can spy on you”
“Economy 7 and 10 are not supported”
Some suppliers are providing Economy 7 smart meters, but it is still only a handful. There are plans to roll them out more widely over the next few years.
“Renters can’t get a smart meter”
If you pay the energy bills and the meter belongs to your supplier, then you have the right to request a smart meter.
“Smart meters are dangerous”
Public Health England say that smart meters “do not pose a health risk” and that “exposure to the radio waves produced by smart meters is likely to be much lower than that from other everyday devices such as mobile phones and Wi-Fi equipment”.
Content for this page is supplied by and with the permission of our partners, Centre for Sustainable Energy. Similar content and more can be found at https://www.cse.org.uk/