Smart meters are a new generation of energy meters that are being rolled out across the UK by the energy suppliers as part of a government programme to help households to better understand their energy consumption.
What are Smart Meters?
Smart meters are the new generation of gas or electricity meters that can communicate securely with other devices, such as with an in-home display and your energy supplier’s systems wirelessly.
This means that you can monitor your energy usage more accurately and see what you are using in pounds and pence. It also means that your energy usage is sent regularly and automatically to your energy supplier so there will be no need to submit meter readings, no more estimated bills, more accurate billing, and no more meter reading visits.
The smart meter package consists of separate electricity and gas meters, a communications hub, and a portable in-home display device. The smart meter will record your energy usage every 30 minutes and will enable energy suppliers to offer tariffs that meet your energy needs better.
In September 2017 there were almost 7.7 million smart meters installed in domestic properties in the UK and almost 47,000 in non-domestic properties.
What Are the Benefits of Having a Smart Meter?
There are many benefits of having a smart meter which includes:
- Almost real-time energy use (updated every 10 seconds for electricity, 30 minutes for gas)
- Ability to track your energy usage
- Help you to work out where you can make savings on your energy bills
- No estimate energy bills
- More accurate energy bills
- More informed information about energy usage to assist the selection of the best energy tariffs
- A broader range of tariffs as energy suppliers will start to tailor their tariffs to smart meter customers which may offer cheaper deals
- Prepayment customers will also benefit from having a display to tell them what credit they have as well as having the opportunity to access different ways to buy credit, automatic top-ups, and low credit alerts
- Creates a smarter and more dynamic energy market which may be more competitive
- They can switch between credit, Economy 7, and prepayment modes without the energy supplier needing to change your meter
What Are Common Problems or Disadvantages With Smart Meters?
There are a few concerns that customers have with smart meters and some of the industry responses:
- Data security – smart meters only store usage data and they communicate it on a dedicated and secure network, not the internet
- Access to energy usage data – smart meters can send 30-minute interval data which can be reduced to monthly data instead if you have concerns about sharing this data
- Connectivity – in some remote areas it may not be possible for the smart meters to communicate effectively, but this should be resolved by 2020 and energy suppliers should be able to tell you whether your area is affected
- Accuracy – smart meters are as accurate as a standard analog or digital meters, but they do offer more accurate billing as they automatically send meter readings so there are no more estimated bills
- Hard to switch providers – this is not true. Even if an energy supplier cannot receive the meter readings electronically, you can still submit them manually. In mid-2018, all energy suppliers began installing second-generation smart meters that are compatible with any supplier
- Does not end credit on accounts – most energy users pay in advance on a fixed monthly payment plan and this will not change (at least initially) with smart meters so customers may still be paying too much each year and be in credit in their accounts
How Much Does It Cost to Have a Smart Meter Installed?
They are free! There is no cost to the customer for having a smart meter installed. The cost of the smart meter is included in the energy bills as part of the energy suppliers’ costs, as it has previously been the case for meter replacements and maintenance.
Do I Have to Get a Smart Meter?
No, you do not have to get a smart meter installed if you do not want to. The government believes that all customers will be better off with a smart meter and have made sure they are available to all customers but have not made it compulsory.
If you chose not to have a smart meter you can change your mind in the future. There will be different energy tariffs available in the future that will be based on smart meters so if you do not have one you may not be able to benefit from these tariffs which may be cheaper.
Once a smart meter has been installed it will not be possible to change it to a standard meter as the energy suppliers will not be installing the standard meters anymore. It may be possible to have a smart meter but have the communications element switched off.
The Smart Meter installation process
Getting a smart meter is fairly straightforward. The first port of call is to contact your supplier and ask if they are rolling them out for your area. This information may also be available on their website or they may simply contact you to offer one. They will then arrange an appointment to have the meter fitted by one of their trained employees.
- Your electricity and gas will need to be turned off for around 30 minutes each while the fitting takes place.
- It will take around 2-3 hours to install both meters.
- You should ensure there is easy access to the meters during installation.
- You will need to be home as the installer will talk you through how it works and show you how to use the home display unit if there is one.
Can I Switch Energy Suppliers Once I Have a Smart Meter Installed?
Having a smart meter installed does not tie you to your energy supplier and there is no obligation to stay with them for a fixed amount of time after it has been installed.
If you are a homeowner or business owner and you decide to change to an energy supplier who does not currently offer smart meters, you can still switch to them, but you will need to submit meter readings manually until they are able to receive them automatically.
However, if you have a first-generation smart meter this may not be compatible with all energy suppliers as a lot have configured their systems for second generation smart meters.
If this is the case, you may need to submit meter readings manually until the national infrastructure is updated later in 2019 to accept first-generation smart meters. Some very early smart meters may not meet the technical specifications required and you may need to get the meter exchanged.
In mid-2018, more energy suppliers began installing second-generation smart meters which communicate to energy suppliers through the Data and Communications Company’s national infrastructure and not directly to the energy supplier. Second-generation smart meters are compatible with all energy suppliers.
Data and Security
How Secure Are Smart Meters?
Smart meters and the system through which they communicate through has been designed to be very secure. The communications do not go through the internet, they use a dedicated and closed system to communicate.
The development of the smart meter system has used top cyber security experts to ensure that it is as secure as possible and designed to prevent hacking.
The smart meter does not hold information about the customer, such as name and address, it is identified by the meter reference number which can be matched up with your account by the energy supplier.
What Will Happen to the Data from the Smart Meter?
Smart meters will store information every 30 minutes and the data will be shared with your energy supplier and the network operator. The data is shared with the energy supplier for billing purposes only. The data is shared with the network operator to help them manage supply and billing better as they run the pipes and cables that deliver the energy to your home.
Other than the above the only other use without your permission is for regulatory purposes. You can choose how else your data is used. You can object to your daily data being shared with your energy supplier if you want to and only monthly usage data will be sent. Your 30-minute consumption data will only be shared if you give permission.
The data cannot be used for marketing purposes unless you give permission. If you give permission energy suppliers and third parties can use this data to offer you products and services, this may include giving you access to your data online, offer you better tariffs, or offering you a smart tariff that has different rates for the times you use energy.
Your in-home display will store your historical energy data as well as display your real-time information. You may also want to share this data with price comparison sites or other energy suppliers when you are investigating switching suppliers so that you can get a more accurate cost projection.
How Do Smart Meters Work?
Smart meters record energy consumption data every 30-minutes and it shares this data wirelessly to other devices that it is connected to. This wireless technology is like other wireless devices, such as tv remotes or car keys.
They do not use the Wi-Fi in your home to transmit the data but operate on their own system and network. There is a national infrastructure network that has been set up to solely communication this data securely between the smart meter and the energy industry. The smart meter will also communicate data to the in-home display unit.
You will need a separate smart meter for gas and electricity but will only need one in-home display unit.
What Will the In-Home Display Do?
The in-home display, which may be called IHD or smart meter display, is a portal display that can do the following:
- Display your energy usage in pounds and pence
- Display both gas and electricity consumption
- Real-time information that is within 10 seconds accurate for electricity as it updates at least every 10 seconds; and gas is updated every 30 minutes
- Data on your energy consumption for the last day, week, and month
In addition, prepayment customers will see:
- Credit remaining
- Emergency credit balance
- Debt balance, if you have one
- Visual or audio alert if your credit is below a set level
It is estimated that the in-home display will cost less than £1 per year to run.
It communicates wirelessly to the smart meter and it is securely paired with the smart meter so that it does not interfere with other devices or receive information from the wrong meter.
It works on a separate and secure network to any other wireless devices and it does not use the Wi-Fi in your home to transmit data.
Why Are Smart Meters Being Rolled Out?
The smart meter programme has been led by the government to help householders understand their energy consumption better so that they can save money on their gas and electricity bills through understanding where they may be wasting energy.
By empowering people with the knowledge about their energy usage it will give them the control and opportunity to reduce their energy consumption. The reduction of home energy consumption will also reduce the level of carbon emissions from energy production and therefore help the government reach the UK carbon emission targets.
The energy suppliers are obligated as part of their licence to roll out smart meters to all their customers free of charge.
The government has set a target for 2020 for the rollout to be complete to all homes wherever reasonable. To reach this goal the government has been supporting the energy suppliers and the smart meter industry to work towards how to integrate their systems, create a rollout programme, educate the public about smart meters, and ensure that the energy suppliers use the data collected from the meters responsibly, as well as safeguarding customers by ensuring that it does not prevent customers from switching suppliers.
How Do I Get a Smart Meter?
You will need to contact your energy supplier to see when they are installing smart meters in your area. Not all energy suppliers have started to roll out smart meters yet and others are rolling them out geographically.
Your energy supplier should be able to let you know when they might be installing them in your area and will probably put you on a wait list to contact when they are ready to install them in your area.
If you would like a smart meter sooner than when your energy supplier is installing them, you could switch energy supplier to one that is installing them now but is worth checking that they are installing them in your area before switching.
For more see: Who Supplies My Gas and Electricity?
Can I Have a Smart Meter If I Have a Prepayment Meter?
Yes, smart meters are available to prepayment meter customers and these customers may benefit more from having a smart meter as it will more clearly show what credit is left without having to check on the meter.
It also offers the opportunity to top-up your meter credit in different ways including online, through an app, by text message, or over the phone without needing to put a card or key into the meter.
This also reduces some of the overheads involved with smart meters which should help reduce the tariff prices for smart meter customers. There could also be an option to automatically top-up your credit when it gets to a set level.
Smart meters can also switch from prepayment to credit meters without the need to change the meter in your home.
Can I Have a Smart Meter If I’m On Economy 7 or 10 Tariff?
Yes, you can have a smart meter as all energy suppliers should now be able to offer you second-generation smart meters. You will need to discuss this with your supplier.
Can I Have a Smart Meter Installed If I Rent?
You do not own your home you still can have a smart meter installed but you do have to be the energy bill payer. If you pay your energy bills direct, then you should still contact your landlord to get permission to have a smart meter installed.
If you do not pay your energy bills directly to the energy supplier, then it is up to the bill payer on whether a smart meter installed.
Can I Have a Smart Meter Installed If I Do Not Get a Strong Mobile Phone Signal?
Yes, you can still have a smart meter installed. There is an aim to have smart meter communication coverage at 99% by 2020. This will not solely rely on mobile phone signal and it will use a range of technologies to achieve this.
However, you may suffer from meter communication issues until the coverage is available in your area. You should consult your energy supplier to see if you live in an affected area.
Are Smart Meters Only Available to Domestic Properties?
In addition to serving consumers, smart meters are also being installed in business premises where they meet the criteria for a smart meter. Business may be eligible for a smart meter if it has less than 10 full-time equivalent employees.
Some businesses have advanced meters instead of smart meters if they are large users of gas or electricity. There were almost 47,000 smart meters installed and 892,900 advanced meters installed in businesses across the UK in September 2017.
To learn more about smart meters for businesses, their advantages, and which businesses are eligible to upgrade, read our guide.
How Long Does It Take to Install a Smart Meter?
It normally takes up to two hours to install a smart meter.
If you have both gas and electricity with the same supplier, they will try to replace both meters on the same appointment.
How Disruptive is Having a Smart Meter Installed?
It should only take two hours to exchange your meter, but you can help make this as easy as possible and less disruptive by ensuring that you clear the area around the meter before the engineer arrives.
If your meter is in a box you may want to check with your energy supplier that the box is suitable for the new meter. External meter boxes are fine, it’s internal bespoke boxes that might need removing before the engineer arrives.
During the smart meter installation, the gas and electricity will need to be disconnected, so you will need to factor in that you won’t be able to use any electricity or gas during this time. The engineer should keep this to a minimum and will ensure that everything is safely turned off and that your supply is safely reconnected and working after it is complete.
Should You Have a First-Generation Smart Meter Installed?
Energy suppliers were permitted to install first-generation smart meters until 5 October 2018. First-generation meters are not compatible with all energy suppliers until an upgrade of the system takes place in 2019 when first-generation meters should be compatible with all energy suppliers.
If you want a smart meter now but your energy supplier is not offering second-generation meters, you can still accept the meter but be aware that if you switch supplier, you may need to send meter readings to your new energy supplier if you switch to one that cannot receive the data.
Can the Energy Supplier Use the Smart Meter Appointment to Sell to You?
As part of the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice energy suppliers cannot use the smart meter installation to sell to you, so no sales transactions can take place during the engineer visit. The engineer can offer to do an energy efficiency inspection and give advice on how to save energy.
Who is Involved in the Smart Meter Programme?
Who Is Smart Energy GB?
Smart Energy GB is a company that has been set up to lead the communications for smart meters. They are a not-for-profit organisation who is independent of the government, the energy suppliers, and smart metering industry.
Their role is to ensure that energy customers are aware of smart meters and their potential benefits.
Who is the Data and Communications Company?
The Data and Communications Company is the company that has been set up to link smart meters with the energy suppliers’ systems as well as network operators and energy service companies. This national system and infrastructure allow the smart meters to send and receive information from energy suppliers, energy network operators, and energy service companies.
For many of the small energy suppliers, it may have proven too costly to set up smart meter communications and therefore having a national infrastructure to collect smart meter data which can be passed to the right energy supplier was crucial to get all energy suppliers on board.
The creation of this infrastructure should enable a smoother transition to smart meters for both the customer and the energy industry.
The DCC is run by Capita PLC under licence from Ofgem who also regulate them. A Smart Energy Code has been established that outlines the services and provisions for the DCC which all energy suppliers must agree to.
The Rollout Progress So Far
As of early 2018, 7.7 million smart meters have already been rolled out across the UK, but many more are needed in homes and businesses. The Big Six are leading the way with some making more progress than others.
- British Gas – This supplier is one of the first to start the rollout of the second generation smart meters with a number of trials taking place already. British Gas is leading the way with around half of their customer base taking up the offer of a smart meter. They have installed 4m so far.
- E.on – E.on has a customer base of 4.6m, but has only installed 750,000 meters so far, but they are trying to increase uptake by offering cheaper deals to those customers who have one installed.
- EDF – This company has only a 10% uptake, with 300,000 of their 3 million customers getting a smart meter so far. However the boss of the company has been quoted as saying that the quality of the meters is poor and this is affecting public confidence.
- Scottish Power – Around 500,000 customers have been supplied with a meter despite half of the company’s 5.3m customers being offered one. They have also been critical of the quality to date.
- SSE – 600,000 customers have had a meter installed – just a fraction of their 7.7m customers. They too are waiting for the later models to become more widespread before they carry out the majority of their installations.
- nPower – nPower have only just started small scale installations of new smart meters and want to expand the rollout from next year. However their likely merger with SSE could see this changing.
Who is Regulating the Smart Meter Rollout?
Ofgem as the energy industry regulator is responsible for overseeing the rollout of smart meters and ensuring that the energy suppliers meet the obligation set within their energy licence. As part of this role Ofgem will be:
- Protecting customers’ interests
- Ensuring energy suppliers comply with the smart meter obligation and monitoring their activity
- Regulating the Data Communications Company (DCC) which will include price control
A Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP) has been created which states the minimum standards that an energy supplier has to follow for their customers, especially for the vulnerable customers.
There have also been several other agencies that have helped to develop the smart metering programme and ensure that customers interests have been addressed.
This includes Energy UK who is the trade association for the energy industry in Great Britain, who has joined with other industry bodies, like the Citizens Advice, to represent the various stakeholders in the process.
Together they have helped establish codes of practice and guides to support all stakeholders.