A guide to smart meters

What is a smart meter

Find out what they are, how to get them and if they’re worth it.

In the UK energy suppliers have been given until 2020 to offer every household the option of fitting smart meters, but are they worth it? Should you wait until the next generation SMETS2 smart meters become more available before taking the plunge?

In this post I’ll aim to provide you with as much information as possible to help you decide if a smart meter is right for you.

What is a smart meter?

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A smart meter is a device which logs your energy consumption and sends it back to your supplier. As the energy supplier has a real time record of your consumption there should be no need for estimated bills. The consumer gets a more transparent understanding of how they are consuming electricity and, hopefully enables them to save money by reducing their energy bills.

The new generation of smart meters are generally dual fuel covering gas and electricity, and come with a handy energy monitor which provides you with a graphical display of your energy consumption, including how much you are spending. When having a smart meter fitted you will actually get two meters, one for your electricity supply and the other for your gas.

What’s a SMETS2 meter?

SMETS2 is a new specification for all smart meters which is slowly being deployed as a replacement to the old SMETS1 generation. SMETS2 is being rolled out to deal with a number of issues found with SMETS1 including problems with meters going “dumb” when consumers switch energy suppliers.

Benefits of a smart meter

So what are some of the benefits of having a smart meter fitted?

Estimated energy bills are a thing of the past! Fitting a smart meter ensures your energy supplier is kept up to date with your consumption so you can expect to be billed the correct amount every month.

No more reading meters! Getting a smart meter means no more crawling around in dark places using your phone as a torch in the hunt for your latest meter reading.

You get an energy monitor so you can keep track on what you’re using. When you have a smart meter fitted by your energy supplier, they should provide you with an energy monitor. The monitor provides a real time record of how much energy you’re using, and exactly how much it costs. The monitor connects wirelessly so there’s no need to worry about hiding cables.

An energy meter is a brilliant tool for saving money. It provides your energy usage data in pounds and pence and kilowatt hours (kWh) and allows you to identify when you’re using excessive amounts of energy, giving you the opportunity to change how you use your gas and electric throughout the day.

Why get a smart meter?

Smart meters can be a great help in understanding your energy consumption and identifying times when you’re perhaps using more energy than you need to. You can instantly see the results of any effort you have made to reduce your consumption. Experimenting with energy saving techniques such as switching off appliances, rather than leaving them on stand-by can reduce your consumption and your smart meter makes it easy to see the savings.

Can a smart meter be wrong?

The current generation of meters known as “SMETS1” have received some negative press through either being inaccurate, constantly disconnecting from the energy monitor or going “dumb” after switching to another supplier. Personally I will be waiting a while before asking my energy supplier to fit meters in my home. Many bugs should be ironed out with the launch of the next generation smart meters known as “SMETS2” and I’ll be waiting to see how they perform first. SMETS2 meters are only just emerging on the consumer scene with just a handful of meters being fitted to domestic premises so you may need to wait a while for this new version.

How to get a smart meter fitted

Energy providers are required to have offered every home a smart meter by 2020. Each provider has their own timetable for rolling out meters across the country, so if you ask for a smart meter to be fitted, you may be added to a waiting list. If you have an online account with your energy provider, you may be able to book a timeslot, otherwise you will need to give them a call or contact them through their website.

Do I have to have a smart meter fitted?

Smart meters are not compulsory at the moment. Eventually all energy suppliers will be required to offer you one but for the time being it is up to you if you have a meter fitted to your home. Your current or new supplier may offer you a meter at any time and it’s up to you to accept. You can change your mind and have one fitted at any time but you may need to wait.

Can I have a smart meter removed?

You can ask for a smart meter to be removed at any time, it is your right to choose if you have one. Be aware that your energy supplier could charge you for removing the meter so it’s advisable to ask questions before going ahead. An alternative to removing a smart meter is to ask your energy supplier to set your meter to dumb mode which will cause it to operate in the same way as a conventional meter. You will then need to provide meter readings regularly as before, and you will start to receive estimated bills again.

Which smart meter is best

Generally smart meters are all the same. They operate using the same technical specification of either SMETS1 or SMETS2 and therefore should all work the same. Aside from the issues people experience with SMETS1 meters (mentioned above), the biggest pros and cons with smart meters are likely to be found with the energy monitors.

Smart meter energy monitors vary in appearance and functionality and could be the reason for some people switching energy suppliers in the future. As it’s the device you interact with when reviewing your energy consumption, the features it provides may be enough to persuade consumers to switch to suppliers who offer a better monitor. I certainly wouldn’t recommend switching your energy supplier just so you can have the latest gadget to look at but, I’m sure this will become part of the energy suppliers marketing strategy as the industry evolves.

Will a smart meter increase my bill?

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A smart meter should never increase your bill as you should only pay for what you use. The only occasions I can think of where a smart meter might increase your energy bill would be:

  • If you have a smart meter fitted and your estimated bills were low, you may see your energy bills go up as you start to pay more accurately for the energy you’re using.
  • You have a SMETS1 smart meter which has either gone “dumb” or failed to maintain a good connection to your energy supplier.

There are numerous accounts of people having problems with their smart meters over reading and building up big bills. I can only suggest that anyone considering having meters fitted conduct their own research based on their own circumstances. Some energy suppliers have support forums which can be useful in understanding the issues and Google can be a great help in finding these issues before you give your energy supplier the green light.

How does a smart meter save money?

A smart meter won’t actually save you money by itself. It’s there to record your energy usage and report it back to you and your supplier. What can save you money is how you use this information when reviewing your energy usage. If you want to save money by reducing your energy bills, a smart meter can help you to understand how you are using energy and where you can change your lifestyle to make those reductions which should then result in lower bills.

Can I switch energy suppliers with a smart meter fitted?

Yes you can but, you may experience problems such as your smart meter going dumb. There’s lots of people complaining online about their meters failing to communicate with their new energy supplier. The new SMETS2 generation of smart meters are designed to deal specifically with this issue and this is a big reason why I’ll be waiting to see how they cope.

Can a smart meter be installed outside?

Your new smart meter will replace your old meter so it will need to be installed in the same location. If your current meter is installed in a box on the outside of you house for example, this is where your new smart one will need to be fitted. Again, the SMETS1 meters are known to have some connectivity issues depending on where your meter needs to be installed.

Can a smart meter be turned off

You can’t really turn off a smart meter because it needs to record your energy usage. You can ask your energy supplier to switch it to “dumb mode” which means that it will stop sending real time data to your supplier but also your energy monitor. In dumb mode you won’t be able to monitor your energy usage and you will need to provide your energy supplier with meter readings. You will also start to get estimated bills.

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