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 of smart meters
Smart meters offer several financial benefits, both for people who pay regular bills and those who pay by topping-up.
Smart meters send readings to your energy supplier automatically. As a result, someone will 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.
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 lose 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.
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.
Dynamic time of use tariffs
If you have a smart meter, you will also be able to take advantage of a new kind of electricity tariff – the dynamic time of use tariff. With these tariffs, electricity is cheaper when less people are using electricity or when there is a large amount of renewable generation. Therefore, using these tariffs can both help you to save money and help the grid to reduce carbon dioxide emissions!
Smart meters can send meter readings to suppliers every 30 minutes and these tariffs can have different prices for each half hour of the day. You can take advantage of these tariffs by using smart appliances which can be set to use electricity when it is at its cheapest. One typical example of this is a smart washing machine that turns itself on during cheap hours during the night, or during high solar generation during the day, rather than during times of peak electricity demand between 4-7pm.
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.
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.
Different energy suppliers may use different in-home displays, but they all provide similar information. Some suppliers also allow you to monitor usage through an account on their website or a smart phone app.
How accessible are smart meters?
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.
What you should know about smart meters
These are two generations of smart meters: SMETS1 (1st generation) and the newer SMETS2 (2nd generation). Most suppliers are only installing the newer models, though some were still installing SMETS1 meters as late as 2021. An issue with SMETS1 was that if you change supplier the meter stopped sending automatic readings. This problem was supposed to have been resolved though it is not clear at the time of writing (November 2022) that it had been, so before your supplier installs one in your home it is worth asking your supplier which generation meter they are working with.
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.
Requesting a smart meter
There is no charge for having a smart meter installed. Contact your energy supplier and ask for one, or request one through Smart Energy GB, the national campaign for the smart meter rollout. Smart Energy GB is independent of government, not an energy supplier and it doesn’t fit smart meters. It’s role is to make sure people understand smart meters and how to use them to get their gas and electricity under control
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.
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.|
|“Economy 7 and Economy 10 are not supported”||SMETS2 and some SMETS1 smart meters are capable of being used as Economy 7 meters. Most suppliers are offering now offering this or intend to soon.|
|“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”.|