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Energy at home

Smart meters explained

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Please note that this page contains information and links most relevant for people living in England, Scotland, Wales.

Smart meters measure how much gas and electricity you’re using and send those readings automatically to your energy supplier. They come with an in-home display screen to help you monitor and reduce your energy use.

At the end of 2023, over 60% of all meters in Great Britain were smart. The government has targets for smart meters to be installed in 74.5% of homes and 69% of small businesses in Great Britain by the end of 2025.

If you don’t have one already, chances are your energy supplier will offer you one within the next 18 months. If you’d like to enquire about getting one, get in touch with your energy supplier.

Here’s all you need to know about how smart meters work and whether they’re right for you.

How does a smart meter work?

A smart meter has two main elements:

  • The meter itself, which uses a secure smart data network to send your meter readings directly to your supplier at least once a month. This is done automatically and wirelessly. You have one meter for your gas and one for your electricity.
  • The in-home digital display unit that shows you what energy you’re using and how much it costs. You should see updates for gas every half an hour, and near real-time readings for electricity.

What are the benefits of smart meters?

Do I have to have a smart meter?

No, it’s not compulsory to have a smart meter installed. If your energy supplier offers you a one, you can refuse. But not having a smart meter means you won’t have access to time of use tariffs. You’ll also need to keep sending meter readings to your energy supplier.

How do I get a smart meter?

To get a smart meter, contact your energy provider. They’ll either arrange an appointment to install it, or let you know when they’ll be installing them in your area.

A typical installation takes about 90 minutes. But this depends on the type of home you live in, 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.

How much do they cost?

Smart meters are completely free, and there’s no upfront charge for the installation. 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. This is optional, and you don’t have to take up any of the recommendations or buy any suggested products.

Can I get a smart meter if I’m on a pre-payment plan?

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

I’m a renter. Can I get a smart meter?

Yes, even renters can have a smart meter installed.

If the energy bill is in your name, you can choose to have a it installed. It’s worth letting your landlord know that you want to do this, though.

If the bill is in your landlord’s name, it’s their decision. Get in touch with your landlord and ask them about it.

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 mid-2025. This is because your older meter may not meet the technical specifications required by the UK Government.

Some older meters aren’t easily switched between suppliers and don’t necessarily give you to access to future data services, such as advanced time of use tariffs.

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

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

What do I do if my smart meter stops working?

There have been reports of smart meters going ‘dumb’ where they stop sending information to the energy supplier.

Energy suppliers are required to maintain smart meters for 12 months after installing them. Some suppliers have agreed to provide additional support beyond this. You can see the list of suppliers and what they’ve agreed on the GOV.UK website.

If your in-home display stops working or your smart meter doesn’t seem to be sending information, contact your energy supplier.

Are smart meters linked to smart heating controls?

Smart meters are different to smart heating controls, and you can use one without the other.

Smart heating controls give you more control over your heating. Features vary between companies, but in general smart heating controls let you:

  • 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’re using.

Smart heating controls give you more control over your heating settings and let you control them even when you’re out of the house. For example, if you’re going to be home late you can set your heating to come on later.

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

For more information, check out our blog on how smart technology can impact your energy consumption.

Last updated: 17 April 2024