Smart Meters

How Smart Meters work

By Anita Shargall Thursday 14 December 2017

Smart Meters are seen as the next generation of energy meters because they are cleverer than today's standard gas and electricity meters – it’s like the difference between an ordinary phone and a smart phone.

smart meter

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What is a Smart Meter?

A Smart Meter does everything your normal energy meter does, but it also sends automatic gas and electricity readings to your supplier and displays your energy consumption. It allows energy companies to collect data on your usage so they can calculate accurate energy bills.

The current £11bn Smart Meter roll out aims to update decades-old infrastructure while giving consumers an easy way to see how their energy bills are made up. The government hopes to see 26 million homes with new meters by 31 December 2020.

Over seven million meters have already been installed, according to data from the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. At around 15% complete, this is behind schedule, although energy companies have been increasing the pace recently. 

There are 7 million smart meters in the UK data. Correct as of June 2017.

How do Smart Meters work?

Smart Meters track patterns in your energy consumption use and share this information with you via an in-home display, app or similar device. They also send regular readings to your energy supplier wirelessly, using technology similar to mobile phones.

Customers benefit from this data sharing: you’ll no longer receive estimated bills, send manual meter readings or be visited by a meter reader.

Smart Meters usually come with an in-home display that shows:

  • Your energy consumption: how much gas and electricity you have used in kilowatt hours in the last hour, week, and month.
  • How much you've spent: the amount you've spent in pounds is visible and updated every half an hour, every day.
  • Your energy goals: some Smart Meters come with budgeting functionality, which lets you set goals for reducing your energy consumption.

Each supplier's Smart Meter will be slightly different, but we believe most will show this kind of information.

If you think you’re paying too much for energy, use our energy comparison tool to find out whether switching suppliers or tariffs could save you money. Customers who already have Smart Meters can download and share their data with third parties (such as comparison sites like MoneySuperMarket) to help find the best deals. 

How smart meters work

What can you expect from your Smart Meter?

You’ll be pleased to hear that there is no upfront cost for a Smart Meter. Instead, the price of the meter is absorbed into your energy bills, at a very low rate. At present, your supplier will be adding around £6 per year to cover the roll out across the UK – hardly noticeable. But each meter will cost the public around £200 each on average.

Prepayment energy customers are also eligible for a Smart Meter, which could help save extra money as you would know exactly how much energy you use and when.

The real time display should, in theory, lead to cost savings – as research suggests that people who monitor their energy consumption use less. But some experts believe that any savings are likely to be short term because old habits die hard. In other words, we might turn the heating down for a couple of months, but we will then revert to our old ways.

There are 7 million smart meters in the UK

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Action data. Correct as of June 2017.

Pros and cons of Smart Meters



No more estimated bills


Costs outweigh savings


Clearer energy usage


Roll out is behind schedule


Increased energy efficiency


There are compatibility issues


Visibility of dynamic and 'time of use' tariffs


Potential data protection concerns


How do I get a Smart Meter?

Smart Meters should be in the majority of homes and small businesses within three years – but you may be able to get one early if you contact your energy supplier. If approved, all you need to do is book an appointment for the installation.

If you can’t get a Smart Meter early, your energy provider will share its roll out plan with details of how long it will take to install your meter, and how to use it. The government hopes that energy companies will have installed the majority of Smart Meters before 2020. 

There are 7 million smart meters in the UK data. Correct as of June 2017.

Do I have to have a Smart Meter?

Despite the government-backed roll out of Smart Meters, you don’t have to have a Smart Meter – you can simply refuse to get one installed. Most consumers will choose to use one because they will want clarity on their energy usage.

Smart Meter installation

Smart Meter installation is simple: an engineer visits your home, they temporarily suspend your energy supply, remove your old meters and install new ones in their place, then reinstate your power. You may be given an in-home display so you can see your energy usage.

The newly installed meters will sit exactly in the place of your former gas and electricity meters. If they need to be fitted somewhere else, which is unlikely, the engineer will ask for your permission. Modern meters that sit next to each other can be replaced quite quickly, while older ones in more difficult to reach areas could make the installation process a little longer.

Who has access to the information on the Smart Meter?

The only people who have access to your data should be you and your energy company, who will use it to calculate your bill. Suppliers need to get your permission to use your data or information for marketing purposes – as access to half-hourly data could be lucrative for them.

After that, it's up to you who gets to see what information.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Different energy suppliers use different kinds of Smart Meters, which means that functionality will vary by device. If you switch energy providers, you could lose some functionality when you get a new Smart Meter.

Public Health England has assured households and businesses that there is no evidence that shows the low frequency radio waves produced by Smart Meters are a health risk. 

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