Energy > Guides

Smart meters: everything you need to know

Fred Isaac

Fred Isaac
Oct 13, 2016

Smart meters are all the rage.

The British Government, in conjunction with energy suppliers, plans roll them out to every home in Britain by 2020.

The scheme will cost £11bn, but customers won’t have to pay installation costs.

But there remains a lot of confusion about what exactly they are, and what they do.

So here’s everything you need to know about smart meters.


What is a smart meter?

A smart meter is a cutting-edge meter that can digitally and wirelessly send readings to your supplier and make sure your bills are accurate.

It does this by using a secure national communication network called the DCC and is huge upgrade from regular meters.

Think of it as the difference between an old brick phone and an iPhone.

The technology means homes have the power to submit their own meters regularly and no longer need to rely on estimated bills.

They also come with an in-home display to help households monitor their energy usage.


Will I have to pay to have a smart meter installed?

The installation won’t cost you as your energy supplier will install your smart meter for free.

But the cost is already covered in your bill, with energy companies believed to add £6 onto customers’ bills to cover the roll out.

By the time you get a smart meter, Which? reckons the scheme will have cost you £215 in higher bills.


What do smart meters do?

There are a host of benefits to having a smart meter.

The big one is that your bills will be more accurate because a smart meter can send precise meter readings to your supplier; nor will you end up in debt to/in credit with your supplier.

Consumers will be able to manage their energy consumption better, as smart meters display how much power you are using and explain how your lifestyle and habits impact on your consumption.

You can find out much gas and electricity you have used in kilowatt hours in the last hour, week and some meters even come with budgeting tools.

By making your usage data so accessible, smart meters make switching energy supplier far simpler.

Energy companies will be able to create more tailored, ‘time-of-day tariffs’ using the information on when customers actually use energy.

The broader picture is Britain’s drive towards a sustainable energy market; smart meters will help promote energy efficiency by matching up supply and demand.

Smart meters will give households greater control over their energy usage


Can I switch if I have a smart meter?


Regulations introduced by Ofgem, the industry’s regulator, mean that smart meters present no obstacle to switching.

If you have a smart meter installed and want to switch to a supplier not yet supporting the technology, the new supplier has to take you on and the meter switches to its ‘non-smart’.

This mode is only temporary and it will revert back when the DCC launches.

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Are smart meters worth the money?

It’s estimated that energy companies add £6 onto customers’ bills to cover the smart meter roll out.

The jury’s still out on whether they will actually save people money.

Old habits die hard and it’s likely that any savings will be small and short term.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Action estimates that smart meters will save the average household £43 by 2030.

Technical issues have made the 2020 goal unrealistic and there are fears the costs of rolling out smart meters outweigh the potential savings.

It could take decades for households to actually save money using smart meters and any potentially savings are dwarfed by those on offer switching supplier.


Can I refuse to have a smart meter?

Yes, you are under no legal obligation to accept a smart meter.


Can I get a smart meter if I am a prepayment customer?

Yes, you are still eligible for a smart meter if you’re a prepayment customer.

To boot, smart meters are expected to give prepayment customers more choice by opening up more flexible payment options, including automated top up.

They can also help customers see when they’re running low on credit.


Can I have a smart meter if I’m a renter?

As long as you are the account holder for the gas & electricity bills, you are free to ask for a smart meter – you do not require your landlord’s permission, but it’s always worth informing them first anyway.


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