A complete guide to energy smart meters

Smart meters are next generation energy meters – connected digital devices that provide accurate usage data to ensure bills are accurate and households are more energy efficient.

The government planned to equip every British home with a smart meter by 2020, but this had to be pushed back to 2024 after some significant teething troubles with the technology - not least the fact that many first-generation devices weren't able to cope with households switching energy supplier.

Early adopters of the smart tech found their meters stopped working when they switched energy supplier, leading energy companies to push for the deadline to be pushed back until they could make sure the technology was fully up to speed.

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The government has since announced that the roll out deadline will now be delayed until 2025, due to installations being forceably halted during the coronavirus lockdown.

Households aren't obliged to take an energy smart meter, but all must have been offered the choice by their supplier before the deadline.

Although the extension of the roll out deadline is a common sense move, households could be hit with higher energy bills as the cost of installing the new equipment is likely to rise beyond the £13 billion initially forecast.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are small, electronic devices designed to replace standard household meters. Each smart meter is internet connected via a secure national communication network - run by DCC, which is a subsidiary of Capita PLC – and automatically sends your actual energy usage to your supplier. This will put an end to estimated bills and manual meter readings.

Each smart meter is also fitted with a digital display which gives real-time information on how, when and where energy is being used around the home, including data on kWh usage and cost. Households can then use this information to become more energy efficient and save money on their annual bills.

There are some very good reasons why you might want to consider a smart meter, that not only benefit you as a consumer, but also benefit the environment and your energy supplier.

What are the advantages of using a smart meter?

Benefits for consumers and the environment

  • Helps to reduce power outages and tripping of electrical systems.
  • Helps consumers to be more energy-efficient and cut energy bills.
  • Offers homeowners detailed information about their power consumption.
  • Since there is no manual meter reading required, it saves emissions from use of vehicles to visit a home.
  • Helps to cut greenhouse emissions from electricity plants.
  • Is beneficial in maximising utility of existing power resources and obviates the need for new plants.

Benefits for the power service provider

  • Removes the need to have the meter read manually.
  • Helps in increasing efficient use of power.
  • Monitoring is easier and faster.
  • Helps in determining price as per demand.
  • Removes the need for building additional power units.
  • Helps in determining power supply and reducing blackouts or outages.
  • Improves profitability for the power company.

Smart meters aren’t without their drawbacks though, and there are a number of potential disadvantages to using the new technology.

What are the disadvantages of using a smart meter?

Drawbacks for consumers and the environment

  • Cost of disposing of the old analogue meters.
  • Consumers need to reduce power consumption or environmental benefits will be lost.
  • The extra costs involved in supplying smart meters to every home – this could potentially increase energy costs for consumers.
  • Verification of the accuracy of the device.
  • Safety of personal data – although the devices don’t hold personal data, and aren’t actually connected to the internet, there are still concerns they could be targeted by hackers.

Drawbacks for utility companies

  • Having to ensure that customer personal data is secured.
  • An increase in the budget outlay for related R&D and software.
  • Storage of vast quantities of consumer data.
  • Upgrading from old to new technology and systems.
  • Convincing the general public and winning them over to shift to the new smart meter.

How much does a smart meter cost?

It’s estimated that the cost to suppliers is currently about £100 per household, and your smart meter will be provided and installed by your energy supplier, with no direct cost to you as a consumer - the cost will be covered as part of your energy bill, just as the installation and maintenance of a traditional meter is.

Although some recent energy price hikes have been blamed on the smart meter roll out, energy companies insist it only accounts for a small proportion of the overall bill – Scottish Power, for instance, said smart meters made up just £10 of the £86 increase it imposed earlier this year.

How to get a smart meter

The government had planned to have a smart meter installed in every home by 2020, but only 7 million have so far been fitted – meaning another 53 million need to be put in over the next four years.

Each gas and electricity supplier has set its own timetable for rolling out smart meters, and when you can get one will depend upon your energy supplier, where you live and the type of house you live in.

To find out when you can expect to have one installed in your home, get in touch with your current energy supplier and they should be able to give you an idea of timescales.

Can you get a smart meter if you have a prepayment meter?

If you’re currently using a prepayment meter, you’ll be able to carry on with your prepayment plan and top up your meter as normal. Your smart meter will also enable you to top up using your smartphone or tablet.

And if you wish to switch from prepayment to direct debit, or vice versa, you can switch between modes without and installer having to change the meter. You’ll need to contact your energy supplier for details.

If you’re classed as a vulnerable energy consumer, Ofgem’s Smart Energy Code (SEC) strengthens existing protections in relation to disconnection and using meters in prepayment mode.

Can you switch energy supplier once a smart meter is installed?

Anyone with a smart meter installed can switch supplier, even to an energy provider that doesn’t yet support the technology.

Ofgem has regulations in place to prevent smart meters causing an obstacle to switching, so if you have a smart meter installed and want to switch to a provider that’s yet to begin its roll out, then your smart meter would be turned to ‘dumb’ mode, meaning it would work in much the same way as a an old-style meter and need to have manual readings taken.

How to save money on your energy bills

Smart meters offer a great way to monitor energy use and save money, but if you’ve not yet got a smart meter check out our energy saving tips page for some simple ways to reduce your energy usage and cut your bills.

And simply switching energy provider could save you £618 or more* on your annual bills, check out the video below to see how easy it is to switch with UKPower:

And simply switching energy provider could save you hundreds of pounds on the cost of your annual gas and electricity bills, check out the video below to see how easy it is to switch with UKPower:

How to switch energy supplier

How to switch energy supplier with UKPower. Simply enter your postcode and we'll compare energy prices from a range of suppliers. You then choose the one you prefer and we'll take care of the rest.