A smart meter is a new kind of gas and electricity meter that can digitally send meter readings to your energy supplier for more accurate energy bills. Smart meters come with in home displays, so you can better understand your energy usage. Every home in Britain will have been offered a smart meter from their supplier by 2020.
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What is a smart meter and how does it work?
Smart meters are a next generation meter for both gas and electricity. They are a replacement for standard meters, which use technology created decades ago and require households track their own readings and submit them to suppliers if they want accurate bills.
Smart meters use a secure national communication network (called the DCC) to automatically and wirelessly send your actual energy usage to your supplier. This means households will no longer rely on estimated energy bills or have to provide their own regular readings.
Smart meters will also come with an in-home display. This display gives the household real-time usage info, including kWh use and cost.
What are the benefits of having a smart meter?
According to Smart Energy GB, there are several benefits to smart meters:
- More accurate bills Smart meters mean the end of estimated bills, the end of having to remember to provide meter readings and/or have a stranger come into your home to read your meter.
- Better understanding of your usage With the smart meter display, you can see the direct impact your habits and lifestyle have on your bill. This is particularly useful to prepayment meter customers, who can better track how their usage impacts their available credit. By making your energy usage easier to understand, you can make smarter decisions to save energy and money, including feeling more confident switching energy supplier.
- Bringing Britain's energy system into the 21st century The future is smart, and smart meters are part of the effort to create a smart grid, which is part of providing low-carbon, efficient and reliable energy to Britain's households.
- Innovative energy tariffs When suppliers have a better understanding of usage patterns, more innovations can be made to the types of tariffs they offer
What are the current issues with smart meters?
Upgrading the gas and electricity system of Great Britain is no small task. Naturally, there have been a few issues along the way. Some key considerations about smart meters include:
- Some smart meters may temporarily lose smart functionality When switching suppliers, meters may have to turn to "dumb" mode until support for these older meters is implemented. First generation meters (SMETS1) are not compatible with all suppliers. In this case, you would have to revert to giving meter readings. This issue is set to be resolved by 2018.
- Some smart meters aren't currently compatible with solar or microgeneration You may find that your supplier cannot offer you smart meters just yet as they are not able to work with solar or microgeneration.
- The location of your meter could be inaccessible If your meter is located in a place where signal may be an issue (e.g. in the basement) your supplier's current generation of meter may be unable to achieve an appropriate signal to send information remotely to your supplier — in this case you won't presently be offered one.
How much does it cost?
There is no direct cost to you. Your smart meter will be installed by your energy supplier, and the cost of the roll out is covered already in your energy bill - the same way that installation and maintenance of traditional meters is.
Can I switch 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. But this is only temporary (see above).
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