What’s a smart meter?


What’s a smart meter?

The government has launched a number of initiatives designed to help the public reduce their consumption of energy, and smart meters are a part of it. New figures from uSwitch suggest that almost three quarters of consumers are happy to have a smart meter fitted in their home; however, a quarter of people still don’t know what they are or what they do.

If you’d like more information on them, here’s our low-down.

What’s a smart meter?

Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters – think the smart phone of the meter world. They come with in-home displays, which let you see exactly how much energy you’re using at that point in time and how much it costs, so you can keep track.

What are the benefits?

As mentioned, smart meters are designed to give you near real-time information on your energy usage (in pounds and pence), with the aim being that you can manage your energy costs better if you know what you’re using. For example – you could trial running your washing machine at 30°C rather than 40°C to see how much money you save, or start turning off your electricals, so they don’t use up energy sat on standby.

These meters should cut out the need for meter readings too, as they emit low radio frequency emissions, much like a wireless device, to communicate directly with your supplier to give them accurate readings. This means you should never be overcharged for energy you haven’t used and you’ll know what you owe every month, which, in turn, should help you budget better.

Smart meters will also make switching providers easier, so getting the best deals should be a simpler process. The meters will work in credit and prepayment form, and, depending on your provider, remote top-up facilities will be available. You’ll still be able to pay by cash too.

If you generate your own energy through systems such as solar panels, a smart meter will let you measure how much you produce, and whether you have any surplus energy you could sell back to the grid.

What else do I need to know?

You’ll probably have heard in the press that not everyone is a fan of the government’s plans, with critics arguing that the meters benefit the suppliers rather than the public by allowing them to disconnect customers or switch them to a prepayment plan remotely. If you do have trouble paying your bills, it’s really important that you contact your energy supplier as soon as possible, as the longer you leave it, the more at risk you are of falling into arrears.

Your supplier may be able to offer you different payment plans in order to help you pay back what you owe them. Although it would be possible for a supplier to remotely disconnect you, the energy regulator, Ofgem, has introduced strict rules to make sure that, if a customer is in debt, their energy provider has to follow a number of different steps in order to help them, with disconnection being the last resort.

Some people are also asking whether the meters are safe as they give off wireless emissions to transmit information. The meters will be subject to the same testing as any other device you have in your home, such as a mobile phone, and, according to Public Health England, the level of emissions they give off is lower than what you’d get from a microwave or a TV, so they’re really safe.

How do I get a smart meter?

The government aims for all homes and small businesses to have a smart meter by 2020. Energy suppliers will be required to install them for no cost – costs will be recouped over a longer period of time through bills. Some energy companies have already started fitting them in their customers’ homes, so if you require more details about your specific provider, it’s best to speak to them directly about their roll-out plan. When your meter is installed, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand how it works, details of which should be available through your provider.

Are smart apps different to a smart meter?

Yes, smart apps are different – they’re not widely available in the UK, but are being trialled by some energy suppliers around the world to see if they’re an effective way of saving money. In the future, providers may be able to control how much electricity is used by appliances, or things like your lights and heating, allowing them to turn something off and on, depending on how much energy is being used on the grid. It’s likely that you’d need specific energy-efficient appliances and adaptions of your current electrics for this to work, and it’ll be up to you whether you choose to be involved or not.