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 plans to equip every British home with a smart meter by 2020, but while companies including British Gas and First Utility have already started their smart meter roll out, there are suggestions this deadline may now be pushed back as far as 2025.
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.
Smart meters aren’t without their drawbacks though, and there are a number of potential disadvantages to using the new technology.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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