By nickihodgson - posted on October 30, 2018

Smart Meters De-mystified

Most people in the UK have heard of smart meters thanks to Gaz & Leccy, Kirstie and Phil’s Smart Energy Tour, offers from their energy suppliers or anecdotes from friends and family who have had one installed. But, while the term is familiar, many may not know exactly what smart meters are, what they do or if these meters are the right choice for their household. Here we’ve responded to some of your most frequently asked questions:

What are smart meters?

Smart Meters are new gas and electricity meters, which give you more control over your energy usage and bills. Smart meters measure how much gas and electricity you are using – this is shown on an in-home display so you can see how much you are using and how much it is costing you – this information is also sent direct to your energy supplier which means your bills will no longer be estimated and you don’t have to take your own meter readings.

How do I get a smart meter?

Smart meters are being rolled out over the next few years, and energy suppliers will be required to offer a smart meter to every household by 2020. If you are interested in getting a smart meter, please contact your energy supplier directly. Installing a smart meter is free of charge, it will generally take up to an hour to install and your gas and electricity supply will be switched off very temporarily during this process.

I’ve been offered a smart meter. Do I have to accept?

No. By 2020, every home in Great Britain will be offered a smart meter, but customers do not have to accept. If you change your mind in the future, you will still be able to have one installed. And if your meter needs to be replaced in the future, then it will likely be a smart meter that is installed.

How much does it cost to have a smart meter installed?

Not a penny! Energy suppliers will provide and fit them for free by trained engineers.

Will I still have to provide meter readings to my energy supplier?

Smart meters take the hassle out of providing regular meter readings to your supplier. The readings are provided automatically and you can set how often you want that data sent to your supplier. The minimum frequency is monthly but you can ask to have the data sent daily or even half-hourly.

How can smart meters save me money?

They put an end to estimated bills, which means you won’t be overpaying. They also make it easier for you to control your energy consumption with the wireless In-Home Display, which can show you how much energy you’re using in real time. You may realise that an appliance you use frequently is energy inefficient and choose to upgrade it or you may find that lowering the thermostat by one degree doesn’t make a difference to your comfort but does make a big difference to your bills.

What does the In-Home Display (IHD) show?

The display shows how much energy you’re using and what it’s costing you in pounds and pence. You can view your energy consumption in real time or over a specified period (from a few hours to several months), with graphs of the data making it easier to understand. To keep track of your energy usage, you can also set alerts to warn you when you’re approaching a limit, either in kWh or £s. The engineer who installs the meter can talk you through how to use the display.

For prepayment customers, the display also shows how much credit is left on the meter, the emergency credit balance and the debt balance, if there is one. You may even be able to top-up via the display!

Can I have a smart meter installed if I have a prepayment meter?

Yes! Prepayment customers may also find that smart meters make it easier for them to top-up their meter since they’ll be able to add money by phone, online or through an app, in addition to their current payment methods.

Can I have a smart meter installed if I’m renting?

Yes, if you pay for your gas and/or electricity, although it’s best to clear that with the landlord first.

Can I get smart meters if I have solar panels?

Officially, yes. Unofficially, it depends. EON and NPower will not install smart meters in homes with solar panels at the moment. Other suppliers, like British Gas, will fit them but some customers have experienced billing issues and needed to have the smart meters removed. It comes down to a technical problem with first generation smart meters, where the meter struggles to read the amount of energy generated by solar panels. This issue is being addressed and Smart Energy GB says, “in the future, your in-home display may also be able to reflect the energy you’re generating yourself, such as from solar panels.”

If I have a smart meter installed, will it send or sell my information to companies other than my energy supplier?

No. Your smart meter collects information about how much gas and electricity you’ve used, which it sends securely to your supplier for billing. The meter doesn’t store any other personal information, like your name, address or bank details.

Energy suppliers need your permission to use your data for marketing. It is also your choice whether you want to share that energy usage data with other organisations, such as switching sites. All of your consumer rights are strongly protected by law and the use of your data is controlled under General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Can smart meters cause fires?

This concern comes from a Watchdog programme which suggested that improperly installed smart meters caused several house fires, which is understandably worrying. However, as long as the smart meter is installed by a qualified engineer, there’s no more risk of fire than from standard analogue meters. The smart meters themselves have undergone rigorous safety tests and comply with UK and EU product safety laws.

What if I want to switch energy suppliers?

At the moment when you switch some smart meter functionality may be lost temporarily if you have a first generation meter, also known as the meter going ‘dumb’, but this doesn’t prevent you from switching to a new supplier. Companies are aware of the issue and are working to ensure that customers can retain the ‘smart’ features of a smart meter. Often new suppliers can update the old meters remotely to keep those meters smart, and if not they can replace the meter for you at no extra charge. Customers shouldn’t have a problem with the second generation smart meters, and the aim is that all customers will be able to switch between suppliers with no loss of functionality from their smart meters.

Do I need a strong wifi or mobile signal for my smart meter to send readings to my energy supplier?

Smart meters do not use the Internet and you don’t need wifi to have a smart meter. First generation meters use a SIM card to communicate and second generation meters use a dedicated wireless communications system all of their own (known as the Data Communications Company network). This does mean that some customers, particularly those in high rise flats or rural areas, may experience poor signals, causing the smart meters to go ‘dumb’, but the network aims to cover 99% of households in Britain by the end of 2020.

A smart meter installer identified safety issues in my home (e.g., faulty boiler, dangerous wiring and fuse boxes). Will the supplier rectify those problems?

When engineers install a smart meter, they will do a free gas safety check and visual inspection of the electricity supply. They can spot and alert you to problems that you may not have been aware of otherwise. If they identify problems, they are obligated to take action, for example by condemning a boiler. It will then be the householder’s responsibility to rectify the issues.

Will suppliers use my data to charge me more during peak times?

Maybe, but it should be cheaper at other times, so you can save money by using electricity and gas outside of peak times. Energy suppliers can only charge prices customers have agreed to, and you will know if you have signed up to a ‘time of use’ tariff.

What if I am bombarded with calls, texts, letters or emails about getting a smart meter even after I’ve refused?

The government has said that “Ofgem will take up complaints with energy suppliers for customers who feel they are being bullied or coerced into getting a smart meter.” You can find out more on the Ofgem website.