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Should I get a smart meter? A complete buyer's guide

Our helpful guide will help you make the right decision.

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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 they work, why smart meters are worth it 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 readings to your energy supplier every month.  

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 necessarily guarantee you cheaper energy but it can help you to save money.  

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↑.  

How do smart meters save you 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.  

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

How good are smart meters at saving money?

How much money you can save by getting a smart meter will vary depending on your current usage but government figures suggest it could reduce your energy costs by up to £250^.

How a smart meter works

Your smart meter will work differently depending where you live and which type you have.

If you live in the South and have a SMETS 1 meter - it sends your gas and electricity readings to your supplier via the 3G mobile network which it connects to via a SIM card.  

If you live in the North have a SMETS 1 meter - it submits your meter readings to the independent North Communications Network which it connects to via radio waves.  

If you have a SMETS 2 meter - regardless of whether you live in the north or the south, your SMETS 2 meter will submit your readings to your supplier over a separate network that’s owned by the Data Communications Company (DCC).  

How to get a smart meter

The government plans to have a smart meter installed in every UK home and small business by 2025 but it’s possible to obtain one much sooner by submitting a request to your energy supplier.  

This is easily done by either phoning them up or logging into your online account and they’ll soon be in contact to arrange a suitable date and time for its installation.  

Why should I get a smart meter?

Smart meters are a good idea 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.

It’s also just a lot more convenient because you don’t have to worry about remembering to submit your meter readings every month. This again can help you save money because you’ll no longer have to rely on estimated bills.  

Can I refuse a smart meter?

Yes, if you don’t want one you can refuse to have a smart meter installed in your home.  

Do smart meters need 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?

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.  

Are smart meters safe?

All of the evidence collected by Public Health England (PHE) to date confirms that the small amount of low-energy radiation emitted by smart meters does not pose a risk to your health.

Their report highlights that you are actually exposed to higher amounts of this type of radiation by using everyday devices like smartphones and microwaves.  

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.  

How much is a smart meter?

Smart meters are completely free to have installed in your home.

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.  

I’m on a prepayment meter, should I get a smart meter?

If you want to stay on a prepayment meter, it is still a good idea to get a pay-as-you-go smart meter. As well as being able to monitor your energy use in real time, you’ll be able to top up online and will get alerts when your credit is running low.  

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

Perhaps the biggest benefits of smart meters is that they can help you to 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.

Environmental impact

One of the other big advantages of smart meters is that they give you an improved look into your energy usage which can help you reduce your carbon footprint. You’ll be helping the planet and saving 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 balance using a smart meter. Your meter will even alert you when you’re running low and allow you to add credit online 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

Another downside of smart meters is that not all energy suppliers offer them, so if you’re on a tariff with a specific supplier, you might not qualify. It’s likely you can find a supplier that does by switching.  

Might go “dumb” after switching

Amongst the few disadvantages of smart meters, this is the biggest issue. Some 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 they 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 June this year, it was announced that this deadline would be pushed back to 2025 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.  

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

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.

Do SMETS 2 smart meters cost more to get installed?

No, it’s free to get a smart meter placed in your home no matter which type you have.  

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 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 want to get 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 June 2025. 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 7th September 2020, there were 5 million domestic SMETS2 meters connected to the system.

Is it still worth getting a smart meter?

Smart meters are still worth having even if you do end up with a SMETS 1. SMETS 1 meters still have all of the usual advantages like giving you more accurate bills and potentially helping you to save money.  

Switching with a smart meter

It’s still possible to switch to a new energy tariff even with SMETS 1 meter. You’ll just have to go back to providing meter readings manually until your device can be properly upgraded to make it multi-supplier compatible.  

Switching to a new deal is incredibly simple with Energy Helpline and could save you up to £497* on your bills. We’ll handle the entire switchover for you and all you need to do is enter your postcode into our expert tool to start comparing the deals which are available in your area.  

Caveat  

↑The Guardian 2019. Smart energy meter rollout deadline pushed back to 2024

^June 2020. Government sets out plans to drive up smart meter installations.  

↟National Audit Office 2018. Rolling out smart meters.

*£497 is the minimum savings of the top 10% of savers who switched with energyhelpline in the period between 1st Nov 2019 and 30th April 2020.

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