The smart way to pay for your utilities - smart meters explained

Smart meters are becoming increasingly popular; you might have been contacted by your energy supplier to have one fitted. But what are they, how do they work and do you need to have one installed?

A smart meter is a gas and electricity meter that sends meter readings to your energy supplier for more accurate energy bills. They usually come with in-house displays which helps you to understand your energy usage.

Every home in Britain will have been offered a smart meter from their supplier by 2020.

You are not required by law to have one and you have the right to refuse one.

How does it work?

Smart meters are a replacement for standard meters, which require households to track their own meter readings and tell suppliers if they want accurate bills. Smart meters use a secure national communications network to automatically and wirelessly send your actual energy usage to your supplier.

This means that households will no longer have to rely on estimated energy bills or have to provide their own readings. The smart meter display will let you know how much energy you are using and the cost as you are using it.

What are the benefits of having a smart meter installed?

  • More accurate bills – Smart meters mean the end of estimated bills, the end of having to remember to provide meter readings or having someone coming into your home to read your meter.
  • Better understanding of your usage – With the in-house display you can see the direct impact that your habits and lifestyle have on your energy bills. This can be particularly useful to prepayment meter customers who can track how their usage impacts their available credit. By understanding your energy usage easier you can make smarter decisions to save energy and money.
  • It helps bring Britain’s energy system into the 21st century – Smart meters are part of creating a smart grid, which will provide low-carbon, efficient and reliable energy to households.
  • Energy companies can change tariffs – When energy suppliers have a better understanding of usage patterns, then they can make changes to the types of tariffs they offer.

What are the current issues with smart meters?

  • Some smart meters may temporarily lose smart functionality – When switching suppliers, meters may have to turn to ‘sleep’ mode until support for these older meters is implemented. First generation smart meters are not compatible with all suppliers. This will be fixed by 2018.
  • Some smart meters aren’t currently compatible with solar panels – You may find that your supplier cannot offer you smart meters just yet as they are unable to work with solar panels.
  • The location of your meter could be inaccessible – If your meter is located in a place where the signal may be a problem, your supplier’s current generation of meter may be unable to achieve an appropriate signal to send information remotely to your supplier.

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 is covered already in your energy bill – the same way that installation and maintenance of traditional meters is.

Can I switch suppliers if I have a smart meter?

Yes. Should a consumer have a smart meter installed and wish to switch to a supplier not yet supporting the technology, the new supplier is obliged to take on the customer and the smart meter will revert to a temporary ‘sleep’ mode.

Do I have to have a smart meter installed?

Energy companies have been asked to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to install smart meters in every home, however,  you still have the right to refuse one.

Please be aware that if your energy company has contacted you to change your energy meter to a smart meter because your current meter needs replacing, for instance, if it’s too old, then you should get it replaced as it could be a safety hazard not to.

If you really don’t want a smart meter, you are not required by law to have one and your energy supplier will provide you with a regular energy meter.

One final thing to be aware of – rogue traders

Doorstep visitors or phone callers claiming they want to make an appointment to install a smart meter are likely to be rogue traders. Ask for valid identification from any doorstep traders who will have a phone number you can contact to verify their ID.

It will only be your energy supplier or a third party working on behalf of your energy company that will come to your house to change your meter.

For any energy queries then please contact: energyteam@plymouthenergycommunity.com