Smart energy meters: are they worth it?

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A smart meter is essentially the next generation of energy meter. Just like your conventional meter, it tracks your energy usage. But unlike a conventional meter, it doesn’t need to rely on users to track meter readings and send them manually to suppliers over the phone, online or in-app.

Last update: November 2020

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Smart meter installation

It’s a feeling that we all dread. Opening our energy bills and gasping in shock and awe at the figure we see on the paper or screen. We dash to the meter cupboard. The numbers on the energy meter grimly corroborate our use on the bill. How could this have happened? You don’t lead a particularly lavish lifestyle. And you certainly try to keep track of your energy usage. How could it have run away from you like this? A smart energy meter can help prevent unpleasant surprises when you next open your bill.

They communicate directly with energy suppliers, saving you the bother of having to take meter readings and report them to your supplier. Something that every energy consumer should do to ensure accurate billing. What’s more, a smart energy meter allows you to keep track of your energy usage at a glance.

Often, it’s the little things we forget about that cause our energy bills to climb. Turning up the thermostat here, leaving the storage heater on all day there. Even something as innocuous as leaving your TV on standby overnight can make a difference if you have several TVs in the home. Having a smart meter in the home allows you to make changes to your energy consumption at home and track their effects in real time. But to get the most out of your smart energy meter, you need to understand how it works and how to read it. Let’s take a closer look…

What is a smart energy meter?

Don’t worry, smart meters don’t just communicate your usage data with your energy supplier. You can keep track of it, too! All smart meters have a digital in-home display that allows you to keep track of your usage in real time.

Smart meters can be used to keep track of both your gas and electricity usage. They can be used in conjunction with single and dual-rate tariffs. They can even be used with prepayment or smart card plans.

They are installed for free as the costs of installation and maintenance are enfolded in suppliers’ tariffs.

The government and energy suppliers are working together to ensure that all homes in England, Scotland and Wales have a smart meter available to them by 2025. You can see more information about how this is progressing via energy industry regulator Ofgem’s website.

How does a smart meter work?

Your electricity smart meter and your gas smart meter work in slightly different ways. Your electricity smart meter is connected to your electricity mains supply, monitoring how much electricity you use in real time.

Your gas meter works slightly differently. It stays in sleep mode for most of the day, “waking up” every half an hour to send a reading via the electricity meter.

Both meters stay in constant communication with your energy supplier so that you need never take another meter reading.

How do smart meters communicate?

At the moment there are two kinds of smart meters. These are SMETS1 and SMETS2. These both communicate with your energy supplier in different ways. SMETS, incidentally, stands for ‘Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications’.

You can find out more about the smart meter rollout on Ofgem’s website.

  • SMETS1: These are the first generation of smart energy meters (and the most common). They communicate with your supplier via 3G. Unfortunately, this can cause problems if you switch energy suppliers. SMETS1 meters are likely to “go dumb”. Although they will still function as a more accessible conventional meter. According to this BBC report, roughly a third of suppliers are still distributing SMETS1 meters. However, they are gradually becoming replaced by their successors.
  • SMETS2: This second generation of smart meter was introduced in 2018. These feed your energy use data into a nationwide secure network called the DCC, (so-called because it is run by the Data and Communications Company). These are more sophisticated and will remain fully functional if you switch suppliers.

Is my data secure when I use a smart meter?

In this post-GDPR age, many of us are concerned about the data security implications of a device that records and transmits our energy usage. As with any digital device that uses the Internet of Things or IoT, there’s always a risk that data can be intercepted by hackers.

Because of this, the UK government has established rules governing how your data can be used by your supplier. When you have a smart meter fitted, you are in control of:

  • How often your supplier collects data from your smart meter. Either monthly, daily or even every 30 minutes.
  • Whether they can use this data for marketing purposes (e.g. to recommend new tariffs)
  • Whether they can share this data with other companies or non-profit organisations

You can read more about the European Commission’s findings on the data protection implications for smart meters here.

How do I read my smart meter?

Although a smart meter regularly transmits usage data to your supplier, this doesn’t mean that you want to be left out of the loop. Even though you know your bills will be accurate, you want to be able to track your usage so that you can see how lifestyle changes you make at home impact your energy usage in real time.

With this in mind, here are some tips on how to read your smart meter:

Reading a SMETS1 meter

If you have a SMETS1 meter this can be set to either single or multi-rate. In either case reading it is relatively simple.

For single rate:

  • Press button ‘9’ on the keypad to supply read information.
  • Press once to show the total read for use, displayed as “IMP kWh” followed by the read itself in kWh. This will remain on your screen for 4 seconds.
  • Press button ‘9’ on the keypad again to scroll through additional displays including export energy (where you are exporting energy back into the grid).

For dual rate (Economy 7 or Economy 10):

  • Press button ‘6’ on the keypad to display individual registered readings.
  • Pressing once will first display your tariff, followed by your individual registers. These are displayed as “IMP R01” and “IMP R02” followed by the read in kWh.
  • Alternatively, you can still press button ‘9’ to see your total read.

Reading a SMETS2 meter

The next generation of smart meters have a simpler interface with two buttons labelled A and B. There are a number of different SMETS2 manufacturers. However, broadly speaking, they share this common interface.

  • To take an electricity reading press A once. Usage will appear as “TOU rate 1” followed by your usage in kWh. If you have a dual tariff meter press A again to see your off-peak usage displayed as “TOU rate 2”.
  • Gas meters are even easier. Just press any button once to wake up the meter and it will default to the read screen.

Energy supplier Octopus has some useful information on how to read the different manufacturer’s SMETS2 smart meters.

Smart meter

What is the downside of having a smart meter?

Like any technology, smart meters have their caveats. Especially if your home is rented. You will only be able to install one with your landlord’s permission. What’s more, if you have a SMETS1 meter, you’ll still need to take manual readings if you switch to a new supplier.

Furthermore, if something in or around your home blocks the signal transmitted by your smart meter, this can lead to erratic reporting or even stop your smart meter from sending readings at all.

A smart meter needs to be fitted by a professional engineer, which some may also see as a disadvantage. The process takes a couple of hours and can be disruptive, especially if you’re working from home. You may experience intermittent loss of power here and there which may also impact on your productivity.

The pros and cons of smart energy meters

To help you make a better informed decision, we’ve compiled this table below to help you better weigh up the pros and cons of installing a smart meter in your home:

Smart Meter Pros Smart Meter Cons
More accurate bills with no more estimates Earlier smart meters can “go dumb” if you switch suppliers
Easier to track and understand your usage Signal can be compromised or blocked
Free at the point of installation Renters may not be able to get them fitted
Helps prepayment customers keep track of their credit Potential data security implications
Exclusive energy tariffs for smart meter users. Installation can be disruptive & time consuming

Are smart meters safe?

Smart meters emit very low levels of microwave radiation. However, this has been quantified as far lower than the radiation emitted by a microwave oven, a smartphone or even a TV. Smart meters exceed all current UK and EU safety standard.

Which energy suppliers provide smart meters?

Almost the UK’s 57 active energy suppliers are currently rolling out smart meters. Many, including all of the “Big 6” have begun rolling out the next generation of SMETS2 smart meters either instead of or alongside SMETS1 meters. However, even if your supplier currently offers smart meters, they may not be able to supply them in your area.

We’ve compiled a list of all suppliers that currently provide smart meters below, as well as the type of smart meters they offer. This list is accurate as of October 2020:

Will my smart meter still work if I switch suppliers?

This depends on the specific type of smart meter you have. If you have a SMETS1 meter, unfortunately, this will “go dumb” and be unable to communicate with your new supplier. However, because all SMETS2 meters use the same data network, they can “talk to” any energy supplier.

Is it worth getting a smart meter?

This is a decision that only you can make as a savvy energy consumer. Smart meters have their caveats, especially if your supplier can only fit a SMETS1 meter (effectively tethering you to them if you want to retain smart meter functionality). Nonetheless, the benefits can really help you to take control of your energy usage. Not to mention prevent you from ever having to rummage around in dark cupboards trying to get an accurate meter reading ever again.

A smart meter can prevent unpleasant surprises when your energy bill arrives, as well as helping you to better plan and budget for your energy use. Hopefully this guide has enabled you to make a better informed decision on behalf of your household.

Need a tariff that works with your smart meter? We’re here to help!

A smart meter may be able to help you keep better track of your usage. But it needs to be paired with a great tariff from the right supplier to really shine! Fortunately, we’re here to help. We can scour the market to find the best supplier for your needs and usage, including special tariffs exclusively available to smart meter users.

What’s more, we’ll manage your switch from end-to-end to ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises. No stress, no hassle, just great savings and complete transparency!

Sound good? Thought so.

Give us a call today on 0330 054 0017 to find out more. We’re available from 9am to 7pm.

Smart energy meter FAQs

Can I get a smart meter if I’m on an Economy 7 tariff?

Yes, absolutely. Whether you have the original SMETS1 meter or the newer SMETS2, you should be able to track your energy usage at both peak and off-peak rates. Check our guide above to see how to read your dual rate usage on both types of meters.

Is there any reason why you shouldn’t get a smart meter?

While a smart meter is advantageous to most, there are some who may experience issues with theirs. Some may experience issues with their smart meter’s signal resulting in erratic reporting. Some smart meter users with older SMETS1 meters may find that their meters “go dumb” if they switch energy suppliers, meaning that they will still need to send meter readings manually. Although their smart meter may be more accessible than their original meter.

Will smart meters become compulsory?

Although the government and energy suppliers are striving to make smart meters available in all homes across England, Scotland and Wales by 2025 they are not mandatory. If you decide that you’d rather not have a smart meter, nobody can make you get one.

Will a smart meter save me money?

Potentially. While having the smart meter doesn’t save you money in and of itself, it can lead you to save money in more indirect ways. It can prevent you from high costs caused by billing inaccuracies and estimated bills. It can also allow you to make changes that drive down your energy usage, allowing you to see the effects in real time.

Redactor

Written by eleanor

Updated on 25 Nov, 2020

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