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Smart meter FAQs

Smart meter FAQs

In 2019 the smart meter rollout is well underway — find out everything you need to know in our straightforward guide to Great Britain’s great energy meter upgrade

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There is a lot of information and plenty of opinions out there about smart meters, and it can be difficult to cut through the clutter and stay up-to-date.

uSwitch has taken the most common questions, including safety, data security, costs and potential savings, and answered them in one simple, easy-to-read guide.

  • Read the transcript

    What is a smart meter?

    Smart meters will do away with having to submit manual meter readings, (i.e. you reading your meter and submitting that to your energy supplier), and instead send those over the airwaves to help give you accurate bills.

    You'll get an in-home display which means a useful and interactive way of seeing how much you're spending on a daily basis or even live in real time.

    How do I get a smart meter?

    Everyone will be offered an energy smart meter between now and 2020. You don't have to accept this offer — it is entirely optional and up to you as to whether you take the opportunity to have a smart meter installed.

    There is no additional charge for having a smart meter installed. What that means is that over time, the cost of the installation program has been factored into your bill already.

    Not everyone is currently eligible to have a smart meter installed. That may be down to the type of property you live in, or whereabouts in the country you are. It depends entirely upon your supplier and as they roll them out.

    Can I switch with a smart meter?

    The first generation of smart meters are currently being rolled out. These are the meters that don't necessarily retain smart functionality if you decide to switch your energy supplier.

    From January 2019, the second generation of smart meters should begin being installed. With these meters you'll be able to switch supplier whilst also keeping your smart functionality. However, there have been delays to the roll-out which will probably see the Government's installation target ultimately missed.

    There is also the suggestion that the first generation of smart meters will be upgraded over the airwaves to behave and act just like the second generation — in other words, you'll be able to switch and keep your smart functionality. We're yet to see any evidence of this is successfully working on any scale, though.

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter is a digital upgrade to existing gas and electricity meters. Smart meters automatically send meter readings from households to suppliers via a secure network so that households can get more accurate bills, and no longer have to send meter readings manually.

To help consumers better understand their consumption and how it impacts their energy costs, smart meters also come with an in-home display, which provides near-real time information about usage in pounds and pence.

Read more in our detailed smart meter guide, "Smart meters explained".

Why has the government said we need new meters?

In 2009, the UK government announced its plan to update Britain’s metering system and have a smart meter installed in every home by 2020 through a supplier-led roll out. This was later updated to every household being offered a smart meter by 2020.

The roll-out effort has seen some controversy and criticism, as issues with installed smart meters crop up. For example, customers have found it difficult to switch supplier, the meters don't have full functionality in all types of building, and there have been concerns over privacy and safety issues with installations.

However, despite the criticism, the government maintains that energy smart meters provide real benefits to homes and businesses, such as:

  • Real-time information of energy use, provided in pounds and pence
  • Ability to reduce energy consumption by understanding how much energy they’re using (and wasting)
  • An end to estimated, inaccurate bills and customers being over or under-charged

Prepayment meter customers can also benefit from:

  • More flexible ways to top up (e.g. through an app versus in a shop)
  • Better tracking of their usage to avoid unexpectedly running out of energy credit
  • Automatic or scheduled top-ups so households no longer need to worry if they’re running low on energy credit
smart meter in home display

Are smart meters free?

There is no extra cost for a new smart meter. Instead, this is a nationwide upgrade with a shared cost that all energy consumers pay through their bills. This is similar to the way households currently share the cost of other government policies such as support for vulnerable people and renewable energy subsidies.

What is the cost of the smart meter rollout?

The government’s estimated cost of the energy smart meter upgrade was £11 billion in 2016, with this cost covered in consumer bills. The overall estimated savings smart meters would bring, according to BEIS, is £16.7 billion.

The National Audit Office recently released a report in which it stated that the government would not be able to meet its target of every home and small business in the UK receiving a smart meter by the end of 2020. This will result in an extra cost to consumers of half a billion pounds.

Do I need a smart meter if my current meter works fine?

You are not obliged to accept a smart meter in your home, though some households have reported feeling pressured by their supplier to take up a smart meter.

On the other hand, 82% of customers who do have smart meters have said that it has helped them cut their energy use and save money, according to uSwitch research.

The decision each household needs to make is less ‘should I accept a smart meter?’ but more ‘should I accept one right now?’ The first generation of smart meters sometimes lose smart functionality if an energy customer switches suppliers, so it might be worth checking with your supplier whether they will install a new-generation smart meter instead. Over half (54%) of consumers have said they would feel annoyed if they had to have their smart meter replaced with another in order to retain its ‘smart’ features, according to the same uSwitch survey.

Can I switch suppliers if I have a smart meter?

You can switch suppliers if you have a smart meter and with savings of up to £477* on offer this is definitely worthwhile.

However, the first generation of smart meters (known as “SMETS1” meters) do not all remain in ‘smart mode’ if you change your energy supplier. So, depending on who you switch to, your smart meter may no longer give automatic meter readings or show you how much you’re spending on the in-home display.

The second generation of smart meters (“SMETS2” meters, which are currently being rolled out by suppliers) should allow households to switch supplier without losing smart functionality. On top of this, an “over the airwaves” upgrade for SMETS1 meters has been promised, to ensure these meters don't lose functionality when switching tariffs.

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What is the DCC?

The Data Communications Company, or DCC, is the organisation tasked with establishing and maintaining the network that connects household smart meters to suppliers and network operators. All second-generation smart meters, known as SMETS2 meters, will use the DCC network to communicate with energy suppliers.

Suppliers are also required to take "all reasonable steps" to enrol first-generation (SMETS1) meters into the DCC network within 12 months of installation

Can I get a smart meter if I’m a prepayment energy customer?

Yes. Smart prepayment meters are currently being rolled out alongside standard credit smart meters.

What does it take to install a smart meter in my home?

Your energy company will either offer a smart meter to you, or you can call them up to request one. The installation will be arranged and managed by your supplier.

You must be home at the time of installation. A certified installer will arrive at your home, present appropriate ID and spend about two hours changing out your meters and setting up your in-home display.

For more in-depth info about this, read our smart meter installation guide, "Smart meter installation process - what to expect when your smart meter is fitted".

How can I tell if I have a smart meter, or what kind of smart meter I have?

You’ll know you have a smart meter if there is an in-home display — this electronic device shows your consumption in pounds and pence.

The nationwide upgrade requires that all smart meters comply with Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications, or SMETS.

To find out if your smart meter is a SMETS meter, and whether it's a SMETS1 or SMETS2 meter, contact your energy supplier.

What is the difference between a SMETS 1 and SMETS 2 meter and why does it matter?

SMETS is an acronym for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications; SMETS1 meters were the first generation of smart meters to be rolled out, and around 11 million of them have been installed in Britain’s homes so far.

The deadline for installing SMETS1 meters passed on 15 March 2019. After this date, suppliers can still install first-generation smart meters but cannot count them towards their installation targets and so many will be installing SMETS2 meters going forward.

The difference between SMETS1 and SMETS2 meters is essentially how the meter sends data.

A SMETS1 meter sends data to the energy supplier using a SIM card (similar to a mobile device). This method for sending data means that when a household on a SMETS1 meter switches energy supplier, the SIM card sometimes cannot connect to the new supplier, and the meter loses smart functionality, or reverts back to requiring manually sending readings to your supplier.

SMETS2 meters use the DCC to send data to the energy supplier, which should solve the problem of some meters going dumb if a customer switches energy suppliers. There are plans for SMETS1 meters to be upgraded to this functionality in the future.

Both types of smart meters come with an in-home display, which you can read about here: "Smart meter in-home display - how it works".

smart meter in home display

Are smart meters safe for my health?

Public Health England have deemed smart meters’ radio waves to be well within the allowed guidelines for wireless transmission devices (they are on par with baby monitors and mobile devices).

Will an energy smart meter help me save money?

There are two ways that smart meters could help you save money on your energy bills:

  • Making clear, in pounds and pence, how your lifestyle affects your energy costs in near-real time. This allows you to make daily behaviour changes — such as shutting off lights or boiling the kettle fewer times — to cut your energy use.
  • Reduction of estimated bills. By ensuring you’re only paying for the energy you use, you may save in the long run.

Smart Energy GB estimates that if all Brits upgraded to a smart meter, the collective savings to their energy bills would be £560 million per year.

What is an in-home display?

An in-home display is the piece of equipment that translates data from the meter into useful information for you to monitor your energy used.

Suppliers have different displays, but every display should provide:

  • Near-real-time information about your electricity usage in both kWh and in pounds and pence
  • Near-real-time information about your gas usage in both kWh and in pounds and pence
  • A comparison of your usage to previous time periods (weekly, monthly or yearly)
  • Your current spend for the bill period

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What does it mean that smart meters can go ‘dumb’?

If a smart meter is referred to as being ‘dumb’ it means that it is no longer automatically sending usage data to your supplier. It still functions as a meter, and the in-home display will still show your usage information in kWh - but it may not show you how much you're spending as it won’t be connected to your supplier or know what tariff you’re on.

SMETS1 smart meters can lose smart functionality when the household switches energy supplier. This is because the method by which SMETS1 meters send data can stop working when the supplier is changed.

However, a remote upgrade to SMETS1 meters is planned, at which time all SMETS1 meters that lost smart functionality should revert back to smart mode.

Can I have a smart meter if I’m in a rental property? / My landlord won’t allow me to get a smart meter

As long as you are the account holder for the energy bills (that is, your energy is not included in your rent payment), then you are entitled to accept a smart meter at your rental property.

However, your landlord may restrict structural changes to the property, so it’s recommended to discuss it with your landlord beforehand.

For more information, read our dedicated guide on smart meter info for renters and landlords.

Do I have to get a smart meter? Can I refuse a smart meter?

A recent survey from uSwitch found that 30% of people who have been offered a smart meter felt pressured by their supplier to accept it. More than 60% did not receive a clear explanation of the smart meter benefits or why they were being offered a new meter.

You do not need to get a smart meter. Your supplier will offer you one because they are required to offer all households a smart meter by 2020.

As pressure mounts on suppliers to hit their 2020 target, some are incentivising customers by offering cheaper energy deals that require having a smart meter fitted at their property. However, this will be clearly stated in the terms of the energy tariff.

smart meter in home display

What data is collected by smart meters? Is this data secure?

A smart meter collects only information about your household’s consumption of gas and electricity.

Smart meters collect and store data about:

  • Your electricity consumption
  • Your gas consumption
  • Your energy tariff detail (e.g. the cost of each unit of gas or electricity you are charged)

The frequency at which it collects and sends this data can be set by you. At minimum, it collects this information monthly. But you can choose to collect this info on a daily or half-hourly basis.

Smart meters do not store personally identifiable information such as:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Any financial details such as your bank account information

Once SMETS2 meters are rolled out, they will use a closed communications system called the DCC that was custom built just for this purpose. The information is not sent or stored on the internet, instead using systems and technology favoured by the banking industry.

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Although energy prices are due to fall slightly in October, you can save more by switching to a fixed deal today. Enter your postcode below to get started.

Will my smart meter data be used by my supplier or third parties for marketing purposes?

Energy UK’s Data Guide outlines how suppliers can and can’t use smart meter data, and aims to ensure control of the data and how (or even if) it’s shared remains with the household.

Choices you personally make around your energy smart meter data include:

  • How much data your energy supplier collects from your smart meter, e.g. monthly, daily or half-hourly meter reads;
  • Whether your supplier shares details about your energy consumption with other organisations;
  • Whether your supplier can use your meter reads for sales and marketing purposes;
  • How you can access information about your energy use and get the most benefit from it.

Once you have made your choice on any of the above, you can change your mind at any time.

Can my smart meter be hacked?

Smart meter data is not stored or sent through the internet. The DCC is a closed, private network built with cyber security in mind, and for the purpose of upgrading Britain’s meter system.

There is no personally identifying information stored in your smart meter — your bank details and your name, for example, are not stored in your smart meter.

These two facts mean the threat from hackers to individual households is low.

Does having a smart meter mean my supplier can shut off my supply whenever they want?

No, you are protected by strict regulations around your energy supplier disconnecting your energy supply. This is the same protection that is in place for standard meters.

Do smart meters mean gas and electricity will cost more when demand is higher?

Some media reports have speculated that energy suppliers will use smart meters to introduce ‘surge’ or ‘time of use’ pricing for their customers.

For example, the gas and electricity you use would cost more if you were using it when there was high energy demand from households, such as in the evenings when people are typically cooking their dinner and watching TV.

In the future, smart meters will help households take advantage of any tariffs which do encourage you to use energy when there is less demand, for example automatically charging up electric vehicles in the middle of the night.

Energy customers would be able to see the details of any such tariff if suppliers were to offer them, so they could make an informed decision about whether they wished to choose that deal.

*Between 1 Jan 2019 and 30 June 2019, at least 10% of people who switched energy supplier for both gas & electricity with uSwitch saved £477 or more.

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