A simple guide to gas and electricity meters

Getting an accurate reading from your gas and electricity meters can be important in helping find the best electricity and gas deals so here is our quick and easy guide to meters.

Electricity meters

There are now 5 main types of electricity meter in use in the UK today.

Standard meters

Standard meters are the most common type of meter in the UK. Standard meters usually measure your electricity consumption in terms of kWh or kilowatt-hours (this is the number of units of energy you use in one hour).

These meters usually present a reading in numbers. To read you should simply take the first five figures displayed form left to right, excluding any red numbers if they appear.

Variable rate meters or ‘economy 7’ meters

These meters operate roughly in the same way as standard meters. The only difference is that a variable rate or economy 7 meter will give two readings; one reading for daytime and one for the night.

There are two types of economy 7 meters.

One will display 2 sets of numbers with your daytime reading on top and your nighttime reading underneath.

The second type only has one set of numbers, there may be a button (usually red) you will need to press to display a night rate.

Prepayment meters

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

Again, there are two main types of prepayment meters.

The first, standard prepayment meters may either display one or two readings and these should simply be read as above like other meters.

The second type is meters connected to the Paypoint network. This system works by accepting tokens, usually in the form of plastic keys which can be bought and then your supply ‘topped up’.

Smart meters

Smart meters are the latest in energy meter technology: instead of simply providing a total of energy consumption in your home like many conventional meters, smart meters can provide you with detailed information on how and when you used your energy. They also communicate with the electricity company, sending and receiving information so that no one need come out to read your bill and the energy supplier does not need to estimate your bill.

There are many ways to get a smart meter reading. These include using a monitor, online monitoring and looking at your bills

Economy 10 meters

Economy 10 meters are similar to standard or economy 7 meters but differ in that they have an additional capability. Economy 10 meters are able to measure the consumption of electricity between the set economy 10 hours specified by the supplier.

Gas meters

Credit meters

This is the most common type of gas meter in the UK today. Customers who have a credit meter receive a bill four times a year. This is known as quarterly billing. Someone will come out to your home periodically throughout the year (usually every 6 months) to get a credit meter reading or they may contact you and ask you to provide a reading.

Readings are usually in the form of a numerical value on the box, ignore any digits that appear in red. Readings may also be in the form of a dial and numbers should simply be read in set order.

Prepayment meters

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

Smartcard meters (coinless) have largely replaced token, key and coinless meters but some do still exist and cards are usually used to top them up.

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

Pros and cons of variable rate or ‘economy7’ meters

  • + Customers can make good savings by using more electricity at night, for example by setting dishwashers and washing machines and heating systems to timers to come on at night. These appliances will then take advantage of cheaper nighttime rates.
  • + These meters are arguably ‘greener’ as they encourage energy efficiency.
  • - Savings may not be made if full advantage is not made of cheaper rates at night as daytime rates can be significantly more expensive.
  • - Despite being on overnight, some heating systems may not generate enough heat to last your house throughout the day, particularly if you are part of a very large household.

Pros and cons of prepayment meters

  • + Savings may be made as it is easy to budget using this method and there are no ‘surprises’ at the end of the month when your bill arrives.
  • + You only buy what you can afford.
  • + Any debt to your supplier can be paid back gradually at a manageable (usually weekly) rate.
  • + Customer satisfaction is high.
  • - ‘Back charges’ can occur. Back charges can occur when suppliers change rates per unit but do not correct prepayment meter calculations. Customers therefore spend less than they should and unknowingly create an energy debt. This still exists under EON, npower and Scottish Power.
  • - Prepayment meters can be more expensive. Customers cannot benefit from online discounts.
  • - If you are in rented accommodation, changing from a prepayment meter has to be approved by your landlord who may not be prepared to do this.

Pros and cons of smart meters

  • + Customers can make savings by monitoring and therefore regulating exactly how much energy they use at different times of the day.
  • + If more people used energy at off peak times to save money, reliability of supply could be improved.
  • + Detection of fraud could be made easier.
  • + Less inconvenience of metering.
  • + Very accurate, reducing mistakes.
  • - Some people may have concerns over privacy as there is increased access to your data.
  • - Financial benefits of installing a smart meter do not cover the cost of instalment.

Pros and cons of economy 10 meters

  • + 10 hours of off peak rates are allocated at different times throughout the afternoon, evening and nighttime, allowing customers to take advantage of cheaper energy at different times.
  • + These meters are arguably ‘greener’ as they encourage energy efficiency.
  • + Customer satisfaction is high.
  • - 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.

Pros and cons of credit meters

  • + Can be cheaper than prepayment meters.
  • + The most common and conventional gas meter in the UK today, most people therefore know how they work and there are a variety of tariffs available to people with credit meters.
  • + A variety of payment methods for credit meters are also available.
  • + Supply is constant.
  • + If customers believe a reading is wrong they can supply their own accurate reading.
  • - There is a need to budget over a longer period of time than for prepayment meters. It may therefore be easier to fall into debt with an energy supplier.
  • - Bills are only estimated.

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