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Smart meter guide

Installing a smart meter can save you money

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What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters, which give you more information about your supply – and more control over your spending.

They’re gradually being installed across the nation at no up-front cost, and the goal is to get them into as many homes as possible. 

Originally due to complete in 2020, the full roll-out has been pushed back to 2025. But with many of the best energy tariffs now only available if you have a smart meter, now might be the time to ask your supplier to make the switch. Installations are happening on an area-by-area basis, but it’s always worth checking whether you’re eligible.

The other main type of energy deal is the standard variable-rate tariff. These allow for market changes, so a surge in global energy prices can mean higher bills than expected – but if the prices fall, you’ll be paying less.

smart meter illustration

What does a smart meter do?

They’re called smart meters for a good reason: they do a far better job than the old-style gas and electricity meters they’re replacing.

  • Automatic meter reads

    Smart meters send up-to-date information to your supplier automatically, so no more dark cupboards and spiderwebs

  • Only pay what you owe

    Because usage data is sent automatically, your supplier will never bill you on estimated use – you pay for what you consume

  • Smart data display

    You also get an in-home display, a gadget that monitors your usage and costs, giving accurate readings both in pounds and kilowatt hours

How do I get a smart meter?

There aren’t many downsides to smart meters: they let you take control of your usage and your spending. The government says they’ve already been rolled out to over 20m households in the UK, which leaves plenty more to go.

However they’re not available to everyone at once. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Suppliers are rolling out installations by area, so ask if you’re eligible now. If not, your energy provider should be able to give you a timeframe

  • You can try and switch onto a tariff that requires smart meters, and some providers may fast-track your installation to accommodate this request

  • If smart meters aren’t available to your area yet, you should be able to register your interest – which may put you higher up the list when the time comes

  • Not every house is eligible: they communicate wirelessly, and your current meters may be too far from your home – especially if you live in an older block

What types of smart meter are there?

There are two types of smart meter at present – known as SMETS 1 and SMETS 2, they represent the first and second generations of the technology (SMETS stands for ‘Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications').

SMETS 1 meters are the more common variety – with around 18m in circulation – and they use 3G to communicate with your supplier. This means that they lose some of their functionality when you switch supplier, going ‘dumb’ and working like a regular meter.

SMETS 2 meters are now being installed across the UK. These work differently: they feed their information into a central data network that all suppliers can access, so they don’t go dumb when you switch – and you can still keep an eye on all your analytics.

smart meter illustration

No. Smart meters are not compulsory. However, you may find that some suppliers will only offer you a competitive tariff on condition that you have a smart meter fitted. New-build properties are now built with smart meters already installed. 

The government wants every home and small business in England, Scotland and Wales to have smart meters as soon as possible. Energy suppliers have been given the job of offering their customers upgrades to smart meters, and then installing them if the customer agrees (they are not compulsory).

The original target for completing the roll-out of around 50 million meters was 2020, but with fewer than 20 million installed by mid-2019, the deadline has been extended.

The aim with smart meters and the associated display monitor is to make bills accurate and to provide households and businesses with information on how much energy they are using, and how much it is costing. The belief is that this information will encourage people to use energy more efficiently, delivering savings in excess of £1 billion a year by 2030.

The smart meter installation process is relatively simple. An engineer will temporarily suspend your energy supply, before swapping your old gas and electricity meters for the new smart meters and turning the power back on.

The new meters generally go where the old meters were located, but the engineer will let you know if they have to go somewhere else. If your old meters are very old, they could be more difficult to replace than more recent models, especially if they’re in hard-to-reach places.

There is no up-front cost for a smart meter – instead the price of the whole smart meter programme is absorbed into everyone’s energy bills. The real-time display should theoretically even lead to cost savings, as research suggests that people who monitor their energy consumption use less.

Smart meters and smart thermostats are different devices – meters provide you with information about usage and costs on an in-home display, smart thermostats instead enable you to control your thermostat via a phone, tablet or computer, wherever you are.

The two devices often pair well together: you can use a smart meter to monitor your costs, so when you use the smart thermostat to turn up the heating, you can see how much extra it’s costing you nearly in real time.

Smart meters are perfectly safe, although some people may be concerned about the levels of radiation given off my smart meters. 

Smart meters give off microwaves, which can cause cancer in intense bursts. However British Gas and Cancer Research UK have stated that the levels of microwave radiation are actually lower than those given off by TVs, smartphones and microwaves. As a result, they’ve been given the all-clear in homes across the UK.

Data protection is an important factor to consider when thinking about smart meters, because as with any online technology it can be vulnerable to hackers. However, the government has set rules about how your data can be used – you’ll have the option to choose:

  • How often your supplier can collect data from your smart meter – the minimum is monthly but you can also choose daily and half hourly

  • Whether they can share this with other companies and organisations

  • If they can use your data for marketing purposes

The choices you make regarding these matters aren’t permanent – you’ll always be able to change your preferences. If you have any queries about your data, you can always contact your provider to ask.

Economy 7 tariffs give you cheaper rates during the night, and more expensive rates during the day. The cheaper rate period is usually seven hours, and with an Economy 10 tariff this goes up to 10 hours. This type of tariff is known as ‘time of use’.

If you’re on Economy 7 or 10, you might be able to get a smart meter as some suppliers are starting to offer ones that are able to juggle two tariffs – this could be especially useful as you’ll be able to see which tariff you’re currently using, and how much energy you’ve consumed under each.

However, this may not be available for all Economy 7 and 10 providers, so you should talk to your energy company and get all the details before accepting a smart meter.

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