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Smart Meters: We answer the big questions

Patrick Christys
Apr 26, 2019

Smart meters. Everyone has heard of them, but not many people seem to understand that they're going to impact upon everybody's life very shortly.

You can wave goodbye to that boiler of yours, because the government wants energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland by 2020.

Smart meters claim to show a digital, accurate reading of how much gas and energy a customer is using, so those dreaded, and often wildly inaccurate 'estimated bills' would be a thing of the past.

Isn't it strange that within days of you not paying your energy bill, you're bombarded with phone calls and written letters, but when they've overcharged you it can take weeks to get your money back?

Anyway, there's a lot of scepticism surrounding smart meters, and rightly so - and make sure you go to A Spokesman Said for the best energy deals on the market.

Especially because a new study by YouGov found that respondents believe having one of the devices installed rarely leads to lower energy costs - just seven per cent of households with a smart meter saw a reduced bill.

So here are some answers to arguably the most common questions regarding smart meters:

What should you do with your in-home display when you move house? 

Leave it there for the next tenants/owners to use, don't throw it in the bin.

Can you recycle your in-home display? 

If you decide not to use your smart meter's in-home display, it's best to keep it stored safely rather than dispose of it. 

If for any reason you need a new one, contact your energy supplier to find out what to do with your old in-home display rather than throwing away.

How much does it cost in energy bills to have your in-home display on? 

Your smart meter's in-home display will cost around £1 of electricity a year to power.

However, according to YouGov's survey, which was commissioned for the Electrical Contractors' Assocation, nine per cent of those with a smart meter claimed their bills had actually increased since having the device installed.   

How can a smart meter keep me safe? 

 In 2017 and 2018 combined, over 635,000 unsafe situations unrelated to smart meters, have been identified by installers, during free visual safety checks which form part of the installation visit. 

Can a smart meter help vulnerable, elderly people? 

 Smart meters could be used (with permission) to monitor for any irregularities in vulnerable people's homes. 

If a strange pattern is identified, such as if no lights have been turned on all day when someone is expected to be at home, someone can then be sent to check everything is okay. 

This could be used to spot the early signs of worsening dementia or other such issues. 

Are smart meters a health risk? 

No - smart meters are one of the safest pieces of equipment in your home. 

Research from Public Health England, the Government's watchdog on Public Health, shows that smart meters are not a danger to health.

A study carried out by PHE shows that exposure to radio waves from smart meters is one million times less than international health guideline levels and is much lower than that from other everyday devices such as mobile phones and Wi-Fi equipment. 

Can my smart meter be hacked? 

Your smart meter is one of the most secure pieces of technology in your home. But compared to things like your mobile phone or your email account, the data it holds is incredibly simple. 

Even if someone could gain unauthorised access to your smart meter, there's very little they could actually do with it. 

Dr Ian Levy, Chief Technical director of National Cyber Security Centre, said: 'Security lies at the heart of the smart metering system and has been a key consideration at every stage of system development to ensure there are no 'loopholes'.

'The system operates on a national scale and has been designed as a secure end-to-end system, not just a collection of meters, energy suppliers and other components that have evolved individually.'

Nearly a third of non-smart meter owners in the survey said the fear of data breaches and cyber-attacks was a reason for not getting a smart meter. 

Luke Osborne, ECA energy adviser, said: 'Public awareness of data security has increased significantly recently. These ECA findings show that the Government must do more to explain to the public why smart meters do not present a security risk from hacking or other data breaches.'

However, just one per cent of those who have a smart meter reported any issue with data security or hacking. 

Another nine per cent said 'connectivity issues' was a problem. 

Can a smart meter spy on you? 

No - a smart meter can't spy on you any more than a traditional meter could. It doesn't have the capacity to see or hear, it can only measure the amount of energy you use. 

You choose how often you share your meter readings with your energy supplier ranging from monthly, daily or half hourly. 

How can a smart meter help conserve energy? 

 Everyone in Britain using a smart meter would be equivalent to planting 10 million trees a year, or removing 600,000 cars by 2030. This is due to small and simple changes that every house could make.

How much energy is actually used in the installation process? 

Every install has different circumstances, however, the actual process of installing a smart meter is highly likely to be minimal or zero, for a few reasons. 

The main electricity supply is shut off for a short amount of time during the install for safety reasons and installers generally use battery powered or non-electrical tools to complete the job.

The same is true for gas smart meters. The supply into the home is halted while the meters are changed to avoid gas leaking freely into the surrounding area. During the short time energy is not entering the property, the customer is not charged by their supplier for usage. 

Will a smart meter charge me more to cook Christmas dinner? 

A smart meter won’t charge you more than any other meal to cook a Christmas dinner. You will always pay according to your tariff which is set by your energy supplier. 

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