Smart Meters Explained

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A smart meter is a new kind 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 2020.

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 will no longer rely on estimated energy bills or have to provide their own regular readings.

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

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.

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 — and that some suppliers are still currently installing — 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 will have no issues with energy switching.

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.