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Smart meters: what are they and do you need one?

Here's our comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about smart meters.

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Smart energy meters were introduced to the market a few years ago, but are taking a while to really take effect. With a number of device types and generations, it can be difficult for consumers to work out how to upgrade to a smart meter. With this guide, we’ll explain how smart energy meters work, and take you through the differences between SMETS 1 and 2.

Smart meter FAQ  

What is a smart meter?

A type of gas and electricity meter which automatically submits your monthly readings to your energy supplier.  

The accompanying digital display shows you much energy you’re using in real time in pounds and pence as well as your total usage for either the day, week or month depending on what its been set to.  

What’s the purpose of a smart meter?

Having a smart meter installed doesn’t guarantee you cheaper energy but it can help you to save money.  

The idea is if you’re able to see how much energy you’re using and have a better understanding of how much that’s costing you, you’re more likely to change your behaviour.  

Surveys conducted last year by Smart Energy GB revealed that 85% of respondents who had smart meters installed found ways to lower their energy usage.  

Smart meters also automatically record and submit your meter readings which should result in more accurate billing. You no longer have to rely on estimate readings or doing it yourself where there’s the potential for errors to occur.  

Is it worth getting a smart meter?

Getting a smart meter installed could be really helpful if you want to try and save on your energy bills. You’ll be able to see when you use the most energy which makes it much easier to identify what you need to do to reduce your consumption.

If you’re interested in upgrading to a smart meter, get in contact with your energy supplier.  

Can you refuse to have a smart meter installed?

Yes, you’re free to refuse your supplier’s offer of a smart meter if you don’t want one.  

Does my smart meter need to be connected to wifi?

No your smart meter doesn’t need to be connected to wifi to work.

Can you roll back from a smart meter to a standard meter?

Yes, it is technically possible to swap your smart meter for a standard one but you might not find it that easy to do. Your supplier may or may not say yes, depending on which one you’re with.

EDF Energy, Scottish Power and SSE have all said that they’re happy to remove a smart meter if that’s what the customer wants.  

British Gas and E.On on the other hand, will review all requests for smart meter removal on a case-by-case basis.  

Is there an app I can use with my smart meter?

Some suppliers, like British Gas, E.ON and SSE, allow you to access the information gathered by your smart meter through their respective apps. 

You won’t be able to remotely control your smart meter, but you will be able to take a look at your current readings and track your energy use in real time.  

Where does my smart meter need to go?

Your smart meter needs to go in exactly the same place as your standard meter was.  

The digital display however, can go anywhere you like. It makes sense to keep it somewhere very visible in a busy room of the house so you’ll be able to keep an eye on your energy usage.  

Does it cost to get a smart meter installed?

No, it’s completely free to have a smart meter installed.  

Does my smart meter display have to be plugged in?

No, your smart meter display is battery-powered so you don’t have to keep it plugged in all the time.  

Pros and cons of smart meters

Pros:

Free at installation

Smart meters are always free at the point of installation, so you don’t have to worry about incurring any extra fees if you decide to take one.

Savings

By offering insight into your energy bills, a smart meter could potentially save you money on your energy bills. Seeing your usage as it happens allows you to make changes on the fly, so you can adjust how much gas and electricity you’re using before you’re surprised by an increased bill. It is estimated that smart meter users save up to 20% on their bills compared to non-users.

Environmental impact

With an improved look into your energy usage, you’ll also be able to reduce your carbon footprint, helping the planet and saving you money at the same time.

No more estimated bills

With your energy usage details being sent directly to your supplier, they’ll no longer have to estimate your consumption based on your past use. This means that you’ll only ever be charged for the energy you’ll actually use.

Offers alerts for prepayment customers

Those on prepayment meters can see how much they’ve used and keep track of their credit balances using a smart meter. Your meter will even alert you when you’re running low and need to top up and allow you to add credit via an app rather than having to go to the shops.

See your energy in pounds

Using a smart meter, you can see your energy in pounds and pence, rather than the units of measurement, which can be obtuse or confusing.

Cons:

Privacy concerns

There has been a number of concerns around the security of data gathered from smart meters among customers. Many worry that their information will be made available to third parties, though UK law has stated that energy suppliers are prohibited from doing this without permission.  

Not available to all customers

Not all energy suppliers currently offer smart meters, so if you’re on a tariff with a specific supplier, you might not qualify. However, it’s likely you can find a supplier that does by switching.  

Might go “dumb” after switching

One of the big issues that UK energy customers are having with smart meters is the first generation losing functionality (or going “dumb”) when they switch energy supplier. The second generation (SMETs 2) doesn’t have this problem, but only started to roll out in 2018 and are not with as many customers as the first generation.

Cost spread across energy bills

The rollout of smart meters originally cost £11 billion, with that expenditure being spread across energy bills since the initiative began. It is estimated that this cost would have added approximately £374 to the average customer’s annual energy bill.  

SMETS 1 & 2 - explained

What is a SMETS 1 meter?

SMETS 1, or Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications, is the name for the first generation of smart meters which were installed in millions of homes across the UK as part of an official government’s rollout.

This official rollout began in 2016 and was originally supposed to see over 50 million smart meters installed in 30 million homes by the end of 2020.  

In September last year, it was announced that this deadline would be pushed back to 2024 to give the government more time to complete the upgrade.  

Why did the government begin rolling out smart meters?

By giving every household a smart meter, the government would take a major step toward their larger goal of creating a smart electricity grid.  

This will be able to use the data provided by smart meters to more accurately predict when the country needs the most electricity, so it's better able to match supply with demand which will help to significantly lower carbon emissions.  

It’s also the government’s hope that smart meters will be able to help millions of customers save on their energy bills. Not only does seeing your energy use in real time make it more likely you’ll change your behaviour but having them automatically submit your readings means there’s less room for error.  

What’s the problem with SMETS 1 meters?

In the south of England, SMETS 1 meters use a SIM card to connect to the 3G mobile network and send your monthly gas and electricity readings to your supplier.  

In the north of England, SMETS 1 meters use radio waves to connect to the separate Northern Communications Network.  

Lots of customers have reported that after switching to a new energy supplier their SMETS 1 meter lost its smart functionality and became “dumb” meaning that it reverted back to being a standard energy meter.  

Customers were no longer able to track the cost of their energy use in real time and had to go back to manually submitting readings to their supplier.  

How do I tell the difference between SMETS 1 and 2 meters?

If you have a smart meter but don’t know which type you have, there’s an easy way to find out. Simply take a look at the serial number of your device. If the number begins with 19P, then it’s a SMETS 1, if it begins with 19M, it’s a SMETS 2.

How will my SMETS 1 meter be fixed?

The government’s solution to the “dumb” SMETS 1 problem was to hire the DCC (Data Communications Company) to create one single unified smart meter network and port all of the affected devices over to it.  

This DCC network restores the SMETS 1 meters smart functionality, once again allowing them to talk to suppliers and automatically submit meter readings, and ensures it won’t be lost if you switch suppliers in future.  

When will my SMETS 1 meter be updated?

All of the SMETS 1 meters in the UK will have been switched over to the new DCC network by summer 2021.  

The government began their rollout of SMETS 2 meters in 2018 although it’s proven to be a slow one. If you’re interested in getting a smart meter, you can find out if you’re eligible through your energy supplier.

Switching to a smart tariff means that you’ll automatically get a smart meter, though you’ll still have to check whether they’re available in your area.  

Homes in some areas of northern England have reported that they’ve been told that smart meters are not compatible yet. Remember, you can also choose to refuse a smart meter if you want to keep your current system.  

All energy customers in England, Scotland and Wales have to be offered a smart meter from their energy supplier by 2024. This does not mean that you’re guaranteed one by that date, however, which is proof of how slow the rollout has been so far.

Will an engineer need to come out and update my SMETS 1 meter?

No, your SMETS 1 meter will automatically switch over to the DCC network as soon as it’s able to.  

Is the SMETS 1 update free?

Yes, you don’t have to pay to get your SMETS 1 meter updated.  

Will I get a SMETS 2 meter if I switch my energy now?

The deadline for installing SMETS 1 meters in UK homes was 15th March 2019.  

Crucially however, this didn’t mean that suppliers just had to install SMETS 2 meters going forward. Instead it just meant that any SMETS 1 meters which were installed wouldn’t count towards a supplier’s total installation target for that year.  

It’s possible that you could still receive a SMETS 1 meter particularly if you live in the North of England. The Northern Communications Network is reportedly having issues with its unreliable signal which is making it significantly more difficult for suppliers to connect up SMETS 2 meters.

It’s not all bad news though. The SMETS 2 rollout is admittedly slow but progress is still being made. As of 30th September 2019, there were nearly 2.3 million domestic SMETS2 meters connected to the system.

Switching with a smart meter

Just because you have a smart meter, it doesn’t mean you’ll want to stay on the same tariff forever. SMETS 1 owners have found it frustrating to switch thanks to the SIM-card style system, though no matter what type you own, it’s still possible to find a new energy deal.  

SMETS 1 owners can still switch, but they’ll have to have to go back to providing a meter reading manually until their smart device can be upgraded in order to make it multi-supplier compatible. Switching with a SMETS 1 meter will cause it to go “dumb”, in that it won’t send readings automatically, but it will still provide real-time updates on your energy use through its display. This is still useful information, smart or not.

The second generation is compatible with the national network that all UK energy suppliers use, meaning that they should have no problem when switching. However, many energy customers are still waiting on their new smart meters.

 

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