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Smart meters explained

Smart meters explained

A smart meter is a type 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 should have been offered a smart meter from their supplier by 2024.

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what is a Smart Meter

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 with a smart meter don't need to rely on estimated energy bills or have to provide their own regular readings.

Smart meters also come with an in-home display. This display gives the household real-time usage info, including kWh use and cost.

Smart Meter display

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

How much does it cost?

There is no extra 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.

smart meter couple in the kitchen

Can I switch supplier if I have a smart meter?

The short answer is yes. However, upgrading the gas and electricity system of Great Britain is no small task, and that means there are some issues around smart meters and switching:

First gen smart meters / SMETS1

The first generation of smart meters (called SMETS1) that have been installed to date — can temporarily lose smart functionality when they switch energy supplier. Households with SMETS1 smart meters can still switch, it just means they have to revert back to providing meter readings until a remote upgrade will be made to make them multi-supplier compatible.

It's worth noting that even if your smart meter reverts to 'dumb mode' because you've switched to a cheaper energy supplier, it will still provide real-time updates on your consumption through the in-home display. This visibility provides powerful knowledge that many households find very useful.

Second generation smart meters / SMETS2

These newer model smart meters are fully compatible with the DCC (the secure national network that the meters "talk" to all suppliers through). This means households with SMETS2 meters should have no issues with energy switching.

These second-generation meters started to be rolled out in 2018. Find out when your supplier is planning to install smart meters 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.

When will I get a smart meter?

All households in England, Scotland and Wales must be offered a smart meter from their energy supplier by 2024. That does not mean you will have a smart meter by that date but it means you should be contacted (if you have not already) by your supplier about getting a smart meter.

Go to our dedicated When will I get a smart meter page to find out how to 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 work with you to arrange to outfit your home with your smart meter, though they will likely work with a third party that specialises in smart meter installations.

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.

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.

There is also additional information about the benefits of real-time feedback of your energy use and costs in our guide to smart meter in-home displays.

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?

According to BEIS, 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. And, according to Smart Energy GB, the smart meters used in Britain exceed every UK and EU safety standard.

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.

Do smart meters work with home-generated renewable energy?

Customers with solar panels have reported that either their supplier's smart meter cannot currently support them, or have reported issues with the tracking of usage and generated energy.

If you have solar panels, ensure your supplier is made aware of this when they contact you about installation.

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