Smart meters are to be installed in every home in the UK by 2020 - but what is a smart meter, and what difference will they make to your electricity bills?
There's been a lot of questions being asked about smart meter technology since the government announced that they aim to outfit every home in the UK with a smart meter within the next seven years.
We've collected some top questions regarding this technology and the governments plans to roll it out right here:
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters are a new kind of energy meter. This "next generation" of meters are a replacement for your existing meters (referred to as "dumb" meters) and send electronic meter readings to your energy supplier automatically.
Smart meters come with in-home displays, which give you real-time feedback on your energy usage and what it is costing.
There are both gas smart meters and electricity smart meters.
How does a smart meter work?
A smart meter works by communicating directly with your energy supplier, so the company will always have an accurate meter reading and there's no need for you to take a meter reading yourself.
Smart meters can work in a variety of different ways, including using wireless mobile phone type technology to send data.
What are the benefits of having a smart meter?
There are two main benefits to smart meters:
- More accurate bills — smart meters mean the end of estimated bills, and the end of overpaying (or underpaying) for your energy
- No one has to come to your home to read your meter; you do not have to submit meter readings yourself
- Better oversight and management of your energy use with a real-time data display in your home
Will a smart meter save me money?
A smart meter itself won't save you money, but the extras your smart meter will come with can offer much insight into how to lower your bills.
Your in-home display lets you see how much energy you are using at different times of the day, week, month or year, which could help you cut your energy usage and your bills by highlighting ways you can be more energy efficient.
Also, many hope that the technology will lead to the creation of innovative new tariffs and personalised plans individually tailored to fit your lifestyle and energy consumption.
Why are smart meters controversial?
While early conversations about smart meters focussed on safety (which you can read more about below), more recent criticisms have sprung from how the government and suppliers are handling the roll out.
From cost to consumer communication, the plan to get a smart meter into every home by 2020 has been a bumpy ride so far.
In early 2014, EDF Energy, ScottishPower and npower called for a review of the roll out, stating the cost to consumers would be £1.8 billion. This, they said, was due to the "ambitious" deadline of every household in four years and the cost of the in-home displays. The cost is ultimately paid by consumers through measures on their energy bills.
Instead, suppliers proposed, consumers could link up their smart meter to their smartphone or tablet to save cost.
In 2013, independent research commissioned by uSwitch found that 55% of us were "in the dark" about smart meters. That meant households did not understand what smart meters did and how they could benefit them. However, later studies of those with actual smart meters in their homes enjoyed more accurate billing and were more satisfied with their providers.
When will I get a smart meter?
The plan is for a supplier-led roll out to start in the autumn of 2015. However, some big six energy suppliers have already begun installations for its customers in select regions.
Contact your supplier to find out when your region can anticipate smart meter installations to start.
Who will install my smart meter?
Your energy supplier will outfit your home with your smart meter.
Ofgem has enacted the Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice, which protects consumers by prohibiting sales attempts during installation (unless previous consent has been given by the household).
The code also ensures companies will properly explain how the smart meters work, and outline how households can use the data available to them to improve their energy efficiency.
How much does a smart meter cost?
Your supplier will install your smart meter for free under the national upgrade programme set to begin in 2015. All households currently pay for the cost of their meters and required maintenance as part of their energy bills — this will be the same with smart meters.
Can I still switch energy supplier if I have a smart meter?
Yes. Ofgem has created regulations to ensure that smart meters do not present an obstacle to consumers wanting to switch suppliers.
Should a consumer have a smart meter installed and wish to switch to a supplier not yet supporting the technology, the new supplier is obligated to take on the customer, and the smart meter will revert to ‘dumb’ mode.
Can I refuse a smart meter?
Yes. You are under no obligation to have a smart meter installed in your home.
You can discuss any concerns you have about smart meters with your supplier. Many energy companies have dedicated teams to handle questions about the technology and the installation process.
Here are a few smart meter dedicated web pages:
Can I have a smart meter if I'm a prepayment customer?
Yes. Smart meters work in credit and prepayment form.
In fact, prepayment customers may have more flexible payment options available to them with smart meters, including remote top-up facilities.
Are smart meters safe?
Yes. According to DECC, all smart meters are subject to the same safety regulations and testing of any in-home technological devices, including baby monitors and mobile phones. Smart meters are also covered by EU and UK safety legislation, which means they have undergone rigorous testing.
Smart meters emit low radio frequency emissions in much the same way as other wireless devices. These allow energy suppliers to accurately track household energy consumption and will put an end to estimated bills.
According to Public Health England (PHE), the exposure to low frequency emissions from smart meters is lower than that caused by appliances such as microwaves and TVs. If you want to know more about radio emissions and safety, visit the Public Health England website.
What will energy companies do with the information they collect about my energy consumption?
Your smart meter will provide you with access to your real-time energy consumption figures as well as more detailed historical consumption information should you want it.
Under Ofgem codes published July 2013, you can dictate how much of this data your energy supplier can retrieve from your smart meter and whether your supplier can share that info with third parties. You can also decide whether or not your supplier can use that information for marketing purposes.
The exception to this is the data which your supplier requires in order to bill you and for other regulated purposes.
Do smart meters work with home generated renewable energy?
Traditional meters are only capable of recording consumption and consequently don’t take into account any energy generated by a household.
If you have or are planning to install solar panels or any other renewable energy generating system in your home, a smart meter will enable you to measure how much energy you produce. The smart meter will also calculate whether or not there is a surplus which you could sell back to the grid.
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