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Energy at home

Guide to smart meters

Benefits

  • save money on your gas and electricity bills
  • visualise your energy usage
  • change your habits

Smart meters measure how much gas and electricity you’re using via a remote connection to your energy supplier. They come with an in-home display screen to help you visualise your energy usage and support you to reduce your energy consumption.

One in four homes now have a smart meter, and every home and office in England, Scotland and Wales will have been offered one by the end of 2024 – a total of fifty million gas and electricity meters provided to 27 million homes and offices.

In this guide, we look at the benefits of smart meters and how they work.

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter has two main elements:

  • the meter itself, which uses a secure smart data network to automatically and wirelessly send your meter readings to your supplier at least once a month
  • the in-home digital display that shows you what energy you’re using, when and how much it cost

The in-home display (IHD) unit allows you to see your energy usage at a glance.

What are the benefits of smart meters?

On an individual level

Smart meters mean an end to inaccurate bills. As your energy supplier will have an accurate reading of your energy use, you will only ever have to pay for your precise usage rather than working with estimates.

A smart meter supports you with reducing your energy consumption. When you can see and understand how you’re using energy, it helps you manage that. That means lower bills for you and a lower carbon footprint too.

In the future, having a smart meter will allow you to take advantage of advanced time of use tariffs – where it will cost you less to use energy at specific times or you might even get paid to use electricity (for example on a windy day, when there’s a lot of energy generated by wind farms). We’re already starting to see some of these tariffs, such as Agile Octopus from Octopus Energy.

At a national level

Smart meters also help energy network operators balance the grid by providing more information about the UK’s energy consumption patterns. This directly contributes to tackling the climate emergency, as it means energy suppliers can become far more efficient about how much energy they produce, as they understand more about when we will need it.

This doesn’t mean that your energy company will be looking at what you do specifically but they will combine the information from your meter with thousands of others around the UK, to build up a picture of how we all use energy.

This is a major undertaking for energy providers as the roll-out will see 50 million gas and electricity meters offered to 27 million homes by 2024.

When will I get a smart meter?

All energy providers have their own plans for rolling out smart meters to customers.

You can contact your energy provider who will be able to arrange an appointment, or let you know when they will be installing them in your area.

A typical installation will take about 90 minutes, but this depends on the type of home you own or rent, as well as the location of your current meters. Once your smart meter is installed, your energy provider will show you how to use it properly.

What will it cost me?

It won’t cost you anything. There is no upfront charge for the installation of a smart meter. Your energy provider will recoup costs through your energy bills over time.

Some energy companies may offer to carry out an energy efficiency inspection of your home when they install your smart meter, but you don’t have to take up any of the recommendations or buy any suggested products.

Will I get a smart meter if I am on a pre-payment plan?

Your energy provider will offer you a smart meter even if you are a pre-payment customer. Your smart meter will work in pre-payment mode rather than credit mode.

There is a code of practice in place to ensure that you are protected if you are vulnerable or are on a low-income.

What happens if I already have a smart meter?

If you already have a smart meter, you may need to have a replacement fitted before 2024. This is because your older smart meter may not meet the technical specifications required by the UK government.

Some older smart meters are not easily switched between suppliers and won’t necessarily allow you to have access to future data services, such as advanced time of use tariffs.

Second generation models of smart meter, known as SMETS2 will allow you access to all these services.

If you need to upgrade your smart meter, your energy provider will get in touch with you and will either install a new meter or upgrade your smart meter remotely. Your energy provider will do this at no cost to you.

How is my data protected?

The Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice exists to protect consumers and ensure that any installations that take place are safe, clear from jargon, adhere to data protection standards and that consumers are not mis-sold to.

If you have a smart meter installed, you will be able to control the amount and type of data sent back to your energy provider, as well as to third parties.

Smart heating controls

As well as smart meters, you can also get smart heating controls which will give you more control over your heating. Features vary from company to company, but smart heating controls allow you to:

  • remotely turn your heating on and off, as well as adjust your temperature
  • access your temperature settings using a mobile app
  • automatically optimise your heating settings to save you money and energy
  • view information about how much energy you are using at a glance
  • adjust boiler output depending on the temperature in your home or outside

Smart heating controls give you more control over your heating settings and allow you to control them even when you are outside of the house, for example, if you are going to be home late you can set your heating to come on later.

They make it easier to adjust the temperature of your home, although you do need to take care not to turn your heating on more regularly, otherwise your bills could increase.