A simple guide to gas and electricity meters

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If you really want to cut your energy bills, it helps to know how much gas and electricity you’re using – although we can compare gas and electricity prices by estimating your energy usage, we can offer more accurate quotes if we know how much energy you generally use.

Here’s a quick overview of the types of gas and electricity meters you may have in your home, and how you can use them to work out your household energy usage.

What are the different types of gas meters?

What is a prepayment gas meter?

A prepayment meter is a special type of energy meter that requires you to pay for your energy before you use it, usually by adding money to a 'key' or smart card, which is then inserted into the meter to add credit.

For more information on ‘pay-as-you-go’ meters, including how to switch from a prepayment to a credit meter, check out Everything you need to know about prepayment meters.

What is a credit gas meter?

Credit meters are the most common types of household gas meter. Readings are shown as numbers, either in dial or digital form, depending upon the age of your meter. When taking a reading, make a note of the numbers in the order they appear, ignoring any digits in red.

If you have a credit meter you will most likely be billed monthly or quarterly (every four months) and, if you’re on accurate billing, you’ll need to regularly provide accurate meter readings. A meter reader may also visit your home once or twice a year to check the readings you’re providing are up to date.

What are the pros and cons of credit meters?

Advantages of credit meters

  • Usually cheaper than prepayment meters, with a variety of different tariffs available, meaning you’ve a good chance of saving money by switching supplier.
  • You can pay for your energy in a number of ways, and take advantage of discounts for using Direct Debit payments.
  • Supply is constant, and if you think you’re bill is wrong, you can supply your own accurate readings.

Disadvantages of credit meters

  • You’ll need to budget over a longer period of time than if you have a prepayment meter, and monthly bills can fluctuate, meaning it can be easier to fall into debt with an energy supplier.
  • Bills are usually estimated, meaning you might be underpaying or overpaying for gas.

What are the different types of electricity meters?

What is a standard electricity meter?

Standard meters are the most common type of electricity meter in the UK, and measure electricity usage per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is the number of units of energy you use in one hour.

As with credit gas meters, you’ll most likely be billed monthly or quarterly, and may need to provide regular meter readings to make sure you’re not being under or over-charged. Again, to take a reading just make a note of the first five figures displayed from left to right, ignoring any numbers in red.

What are the pros and cons of standard meters?

Advantages of standard meters

  • Electricity is charged at the same rate, whether in the day or at night so you will always know where you stand and how much you are paying.
  • Dials are usually simple to read.

Disadvantages of standard meters

  • There will be no savings available to those on standard meters for using energy at off peak times.

What is a variable rate or ‘economy 7’ meter?

Economy 7 meters work in much the same way as standard meters, the only difference being that these variable rate meters give two readings - one for daytime hours and one for overnight, when a discounted rate is usually applied.

There are two types of economy 7 meters - one will display 2 sets of numbers with your daytime reading on top and your night-time reading underneath, while the other only has one set of numbers, but also has a button (usually red) that you need to press to display a night rate.

There’s more information at Everything you need to know about Economy 7.

What are the pros and cons of variable rate or ‘Economy7’ meters?

Advantages of Economy 7

  • You can save money on your electricity bills by using appliances during the discounted, night-time hours. To take advantage of the cheaper rates on offer, use dishwashers and washing machines at night and heating systems to run overnight.
  • These meters are arguably ‘greener’ as they encourage energy efficiency.

Disadvantages of Economy 7

  • Standard daytime rates can often expensive, meaning Economy 7 will cost you more if you don’t take full advantage of the night-time rate.
  • Even if you leave your heating system on overnight, the residual heat may not be enough to keep the house warm throughout the day and the next evening, especially if you are part of a very large household or the weather is particularly cold. Again, this could see you paying more than if you had a regular tariff.

What is a prepayment electricity meter?

Prepayment electricity meters work in exactly the same way as the name suggests - instead of paying for your electricity after you have used it, you pay before.

There are two main types of prepayment meters:

  • Standard prepayment meters may either display one or two readings and these should simply be read as above like other meters.
  • Prepayment meters connected to the Paypoint network work by accepting tokens, usually in the form of plastic keys which can be bought and then your supply ‘topped up’.

You can switch from a prepayment meter to a credit meter – find out more in our guide to prepayment meters.

What are the pros and cons of prepayment meters?

Advantages of prepayment meters

  • Useful if you are trying to budget and save money – as you only pay what you use, you can set aside an amount to spend on energy each month, without worrying about being surprised by and unexpected bill. This should also make it difficult to overspend.
  • Any debt to your supplier can be paid back gradually at a manageable (usually weekly) rate.
  • Customer satisfaction is high.

Disadvantages of prepayment meters

  • You can be ‘back charged’ if your supplier changes its rates per unit but doesn’t amend your prepayment meter’s calculations. This means you could unknowingly be spending less than you should be, and may fall into energy debt. This ‘back charging’ system is still used by EON, npower and Scottish Power.
  • Prepayment meter rates are often more expensive than credit meter rates, and you aren’t eligible for online discounts.
  • If you live in rented accommodation, changing from a prepayment meter has to be approved by your landlord, who may not be prepared to do this.

What is a smart electricity meter?

Smart meters are the latest in energy meter technology, offering detailed information on how and when you use energy, instead of just how much energy you’ve used. Smart meters also send real-time energy usage figures to your supplier, meaning there’s no need to take readings and no more estimated billing.

Find out more in our complete guide to smart meters.

What are the pros and cons of smart meters?

Advantages of smart meters

  • Being able to monitor and regulate exactly how much gas and electricity you’re using at different times of the day means you can be more energy efficient and save money on your bills. And the more energy efficient everyone is, the better and more reliable supplies will become.
  • There’s no need to take meter readings, and little or no chance of over or underpaying for your energy.

Disadvantages of smart meters

  • If you have concerns over privacy, you may not be comfortable with the increased access energy companies have to your data.
  • The cost of the smart meter roll-out is added to your bills, regardless of whether or not you currently have one installed.

What is an Economy 10 meter?

Economy 10 meters work in much the same way as Economy 7, but are not as widely supported by gas and electric suppliers as standard and Economy 7 meters.

Economy 10 offers ten hours of discounted, ‘off-peak’ rates, usually a combination of three afternoon hours, two evening hours, and five overnight hours, and meters can measure the amount of energy you use in these hours, alongside your daily usage rate.

There’s more information in our guide to Economy 10 electricity tariffs.

What are the pros and cons of economy 10 meters?

Advantages of Economy 10

  • You can save money on your electricity bills by using appliances during the discounted afternoon, evening and night-time hours.
  • These meters are arguably ‘greener’ as they encourage energy efficiency.
  • Customer satisfaction is high.

Disadvantages of Economy 10

  • It can be difficult to make savings if you do not have storage heating systems.
  • It can be difficult to switch to different tariffs and your choice is limited.
  • Off peak times vary between regions and suppliers.