Next generation smart meters which allow you to switch energy provider without losing their smart features will be rolled out from early next year.

British Gas and meter manufacturer Landis + Gyr today announced they have successfully installed the first fully operational second generation smart meter - known as a SMETS 2 smart meter - in a customer's home at the end of August.

British Gas says it's now starting a pilot of a rollout later this year ahead of a rollout "at scale" in early 2018. And other providers we've spoken to including Npower and Scottish Power also say they're planning a 2018 rollout.

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What are smart meters?

Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters, able to send automatic meter readings - putting an end to estimated bills - and give you near real-time information on your energy usage on the in-home display you'll be offered alongside the meter itself.

Suppliers have already installed nearly eight million smart meters so far - they've been gradually offering them and you can also call up to ask for one if you're keen (though not all suppliers have started offering them yet). Under current plans, every home and small business will be offered one by 2020.

However the smart meters which have been installed so far - known as SMETS 1 (Smart Metering Equipment Technical Standard) meters - usually go 'dumb' once you switch supplier. They essentially revert to a traditional meter, and can't send meter readings automatically to your new supplier.

The new version of the meter - known as SMETS 2 - solves this problem, as the meters are connected to a new central communication network.

When are energy firms rolling out the new smart meters?

Here's what the Big Six energy providers have told us today:

  • British Gas is starting a pilot later this year and plans a wider rollout from "early 2018".
  • EDF hasn't set a date yet - it says it's still in the process of installing the current generation of smart meters.
  • E.on is in the final stages of testing SMETS 2 meters, and will begin installing them more widely in the "coming months".
  • Npower recently started "small scale pilot installs" of the new smart meters, and expects a wider rollout at some point next year.
  • Scottish Power expects to start rolling out the new meters from summer 2018.
  • SSE says it expects to start installing the new meters in the "coming months".

I've already had a smart meter - what can I do?

If you've already had one installed, you'll likely find that if you switch away from the supplier that installed it, you'll need to go back to giving manual meter readings.

This shouldn't stop you from switching though - most can save more than £300/year by swapping supplier.

Though your meter will go 'dumb', this should be temporary. Eventually, all existing meters will be upgraded remotely so they can connect to the central communication network, enabling full compatibility between suppliers. We don't know when this will happen yet, though it should be by 2020.

Should I wait to get a smart meter?

If you're offered a smart meter, it's worth checking whether it's a SMETS 1 or SMETS 2 meter.

If you want one which will stay smart after you switch, you'll need a SMETS 2 - so if you're offered a SMETS 1, you may be best to wait. You can always request the meters at a later date - just ring up your supplier and ask.

If you don't want smart meters at all, you don't have to have them - they're not mandatory and you've every right to refuse.