What’s the problem with smart meters?

If you’ve been considering a smart meter, you may have been put off by the reports that they’ll actually save you around 60% less over the course of a year than originally estimated or the fact that the UK rollout has been put back even further.

Don’t let the headlines put you off though - installing a smart meter will still help to cut your annual energy bills, and here’s why it’s about more than simply saving money.

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What’s the problem with smart meters?

Smart meters have been getting a bit of a bad press, as the predicted savings smart meters will generate for consumers have been labelled as inflated, out-of-date, and based upon some questionable assumptions.

Original estimates from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) forecast that smart meter installation would knock £26 off the average household energy bill, but alternative estimates now put that figure at just £11 a year.

The deficiencies in the smart meter roll out program have been highlighted in a new report from the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), a group of MPs and lords who work to promote better infrastructure across the UK.

The report, titled Not So Smart, which has been co-signed 93 cross-party MPs and peers, also highlighted the following issues:

  • More than half of all smart meters ‘go dumb’ after switching – Half of the one million smart meter users who regularly switch energy supplier have seen their units lose their smart functionality, including displaying real time data and automatically sending readings to suppliers. This is because not all suppliers are up to speed with the new technology, and a problem that potentially won’t be ironed out until the roll out is completed nationally.
  • One-in-ten ‘go dumb’ due to poor mobile network connectivity – Smart meters use existing mobile network connections to send real-time data to display units and meter readings to suppliers. If you live in an area that has poor connectivity, or you just struggle to get a mobile signal in your house, your smart meter might not work as you’d hoped.
  • Suppliers could pass costs and fines on to customers – The cost of the smart meter roll out is already being added to our household energy bills, but the project has been hampered by delays and cost increases, with installation costs alone found to be £1 billion higher than anticipated. Furthermore, if suppliers fail to hit their roll-out targets, they face fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover, with no rules in place to stop them passing the cost of these fines on to customers.

Some reports even suggest suppliers, obviously desperate to hit their targets, are using 'scare tactics' to convince customers to accept a smart meter, including stating bills will otherwise go up, smart meters are compulsory, and even telling customers their current meter is unsafe. If you’re supplier tries to force a smart meter on you like this, make an official complaint, first to your supplier’s complaints team, and then to the energy ombudsman.

The good news is that obsolete smart meters are no longer being rolled out. This might not seem like a massive plus point but suppliers were still rolling out obsolete first generation smart meters, well past the initial deadline of November 2016.

These early versions also frequently lost their functions when a customer switched supplier, meaning they'd either have an obsolete meter on their hands or would have to have another one installed by their new supplier.

Amazingly, these old - and essentially useless - meters continued to be offered until October 2018, and installation continued into January 2019. So, it's definitely good news that at least any smart meters installed today will at least be functional.

When will the smart meter roll out be completed?

Although initially scheduled for 2020, this deadline was pushed back to 2024, largely due to problems with the existing technology. The smart meter roll completion date has since been put back to 2025 as energy firms were forced to halt installations during the lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Even though the program has been beset by problems, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy still aimed to have 30 million devices installed by January. This deadline has also been pushed back by six months as only 21.5 million meters have been installed to date.

If you're still wondering why on earth you should even bother getting a smart meter, read on.

Why bother getting a smart meter?

The main selling point of a smart meter seems to be that it can help to cut your energy bills, and the fact that the estimated saving of £26 a year has more than halved to just £11.40 is being used by some as an excuse to criticise the roll out.

But the fact is, the savings figures quoted are pretty negligible, whether £26 a year or £11 a year, particularly when you consider that simply switching supplier could knock as much as £428 off your annual energy bills.

The real benefit of smart meters is that they’ll help make us all more energy-conscious and, in turn, more energy efficient, which is good for both our pocket and planet.

As smart meters offer real-time data of how much power each appliance is using, this helps identify areas where you need to cut your usage to save energy – using less energy will not just help lower your energy bills, it will help reduce your carbon footprint. In turn, this helps cut greenhouse emissions from electricity plants, and helps maximise the use of existing power plants and lessen the need for new plants to be built.

You could also find your bills are cut further by the fact that smart meter billing is accurate and not estimated, and you’ll no longer need to supply meter readings as this is done automatically.

Although the smart meter roll out has been hit by some unforeseen problems, it’s rolling on regardless – if nothing else, consider getting a smart meter as a way of helping do your bit for the environment.

Would you have a smart meter installed?

We took to Twitter to find out if our energy-savvy community would want a smart meter installing, and the results show that most aren't keen on the new technology.

Although smart meters can help you cut energy usage and costs, the simplest way to lower your energy bills is to switch to a better deal. Enter your postcode at the top of the page to compare energy deals with UKPower to see how much you can save.

Have you had a smart meter installed? Let us know how you’ve found using your smart meter by getting in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Click here to run an energy price comparison, and see if you could be paying less for your gas and electricity.

Les Roberts - Energy Expert at UKPower

Les Roberts - Energy Expert at UKPower

If you’ve got an issue with your energy supplier, our consumer champion Les is on hand to help. A decade in consumer affairs means Les understands how confusing energy tariffs can be, so he'll cut through the jargon to help make sure you get the best deal.