All you need to know about smart meters

The government wants every home in the UK to be fitted with a smart meter by 2020.

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It’s an ambitious plan, involving 50 million meters in 30 million homes.

So far, about 6 million smart meters have already been installed, with the national rollout proceeding at a rate of around 4 million meters a year at present.

Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know.

What is a smart meter and what are the benefits?

A smart meter is cleverer than a standard meter. It calculates exactly how much energy you use and transmits the information directly to the energy supplier. The advantage of this is you no longer receive estimated bills and pay only for the gas and electricity you actually use.

This also means you don’t have to wait at home for someone to read the meter.

In addition, smart meters allow consumers to monitor their own energy consumption, through the in-home display unit. This allows you to keep an eye on the appliances that eat up power and perhaps modify your usage to save money. For example, you might turn down the heating or limit the number of times you switch on the washing machine.

How will a smart meter change how I pay for gas and electricity?

The government wants every home in the UK to be fitted with a smart meter by 2020

You can use a smart meter to pay for your energy consumption either via accurate monthly or quarterly bills or on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Research from consumer group Smart Energy GB shows that almost half of Brits would prefer to use a smart meter in pay-as-you go mode. That’s three times the number of people currently using prepayment meters.

At the moment, using a prepayment meter is more expensive because this type of payment plan is aimed at people with poor credit scores. Plus, there is often a charge for having a prepayment meter installed.

But with smart meters, there will be no need to have a different meter – no matter how you pay for your energy usage. And, if you are a pay-as-you-go customer, you will be able to pay over the phone, online or using a smart phone app – rather than trekking down to the local shop to top up.

As yet, though, there are no guarantees that pay-as-you go deals will be more competitive.

How much do smart meters cost?

There is no upfront cost for a smart meter. Consumers will pay for the new meters through their energy bills, just as they do now.

When will I get one?

Some firms have already started to install smart meters. British Gas and E.ON, for example, both have widespread installation programmes. But not every home is eligible at this stage.

Most suppliers will first fit houses in urban areas, while people who live in flats and customers with prepayment meters will probably have to wait. E.ON, however, is piloting a Smart Pay as You Go scheme to 30,000 eligible customers on prepayment meters.

If you have been contacted by your utility firm about a smart meter, you normally have to arrange an appointment and the installation takes about an hour. You will get both a smart electricity and a smart gas meter and all installers are properly trained and should meet specific national standards, which are set out in the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice.

Do I have to have a smart meter?

You are under no obligation to accept a smart meter and can stick with the old technology if you prefer. The energy supplier is also not allowed to sell you anything when it comes to fit the meter, though you should be shown what the meter does and how it works.

Can I still switch energy suppliers?

You can still switch energy suppliers if you have a smart meter. In fact, the updated technology should make it easier to switch because you will able to see clearly how much energy you have used in the last month or year in order to make an accurate cost comparison. The switching process will also be quicker.

However, there have been a number of teething problems. At the moment, if you have a smart meter and switch supplier, the new firm may not be able to support the technology. Your smart meter will therefore have to go back to ‘dumb’ mode.

The industry is working on a national network to carry smart data. All energy firms should then be able to send and receive information from all smart meters. In other words, your new supplier will be able to switch your meter back into smart mode.

The potential loss of the meter’s smart functions might put some people off early installation. But there’s no need to delay as you only lose the smart functions if you switch supplier. Plus, any loss is temporary.

Don’t worry if you have not heard from your supplier about a smart meter. The national rollout is gathering momentum, with another push due in 2018. But if you would like more information, contact your supplier or visit the website of Smart Energy GB at www.smartenergygb.org.  

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

*10% of customers could save up to £568. MoneySuperMarket Data, average usage figures, 2016

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