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Blog Post 27 January 2021

Smart meters explained: what you need to know

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 see how much energy you’re using and whether you can reduce your energy consumption.

At the end of March 2020, a total of 15.5 million smart meters were operating in homes across England, Scotland and Wales. By the end of 2024, every home and office in Great Britain will have been offered one – a total of 50 million gas and electricity meters provided to 27 million homes and offices.

Here, we answer some frequently asked questions about smart meters – from how much they cost to when you might get one.

energy monitor

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter has two main elements:

  1. The meter itself, which uses a secure smart data network to automatically send your meter readings to your supplier at least once a month.
  2. The in-home digital display, which shows how much energy you’re using, when you’re using it, and how much it costs.

What are the benefits of a smart meter?

Smart meters will accurately measure your energy usage, which means an end to inaccurate gas and electricity bills. As your energy supplier will have an accurate reading of your energy use, you will only ever have to pay for exactly what you use, rather than using an estimate.

A smart meter can help you reduce how much energy you use. When you can see and understand how you’re using energy, it helps you manage usage. 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 certain times of day. 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).

When will I get a smart meter?

All energy providers in Great Britain 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 around 90 minutes, but this depends on the type of your home, 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 will it cost me?

It won’t cost you anything. There is no up-front charge for the installation of a smart meter, however, 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’m 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 on a low income.

What 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 smart meter models, known as SMETS2 smart meters, will allow you to access 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 protects consumers and ensures 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.

Will I get a smart meter during Covid-19 lockdown?

As restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic continue, many energy suppliers are still offering customers the opportunity to upgrade or install smart meters.

Energy suppliers have implemented socially distant ways of installing the technology and safety procedures to minimise the risk to all parties. New safety measures include:

  • installers and customers taking all reasonable measures to maintain 2m distance
  • suppliers carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment
  • wearing face coverings or relevant personal protective equipment (PPE)

It’s worth getting in touch directly with your supplier to find out whether they can install a smart meter for you. Find out more about the impact of Covid-19 on the smart meter rollout.