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Smart Meters

What are they? Should you get one? And could yours go 'dumb'?

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Andrew | Edited by Guy

Updated October 2017

Energy suppliers are gradually installing the next generation of gas and electricity meters, called smart meters. By 2020, everyone in England, Scotland and Wales will be offered them for free, but what exactly are smart meters, should you get them, and what happens if you switch?

By late October 2017, nearly eight million gas and electric smart meters had been installed but there are still tens of millions to go for residents and small businesses. This guide examines the basics and more...

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please suggest any changes or questions in the Smart Meters Guide discussion.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are next-generation gas and electricity meters, and as well as being free, they offer a number of benefits over traditional meters:

  • Automatic meter readings. You get one for gas and one for electric and they send your usage automatically to suppliers, so no more scrabbling around in dark cupboards and garages to read them.

  • No more estimated bills. As your meters send your usage directly to your supplier, you should only pay for what you use. With a standard meter, you're often charged monthly based on estimated use and you send in a meter reading every few months to get an exact bill.

  • In-home display in pounds and pence. Everyone who gets smart meters will also be offered an in-home display - a real game changer. It's a small wireless gadget that monitors what energy you're using, and shows you how much it costs, in near real time.

    It gives readings in both pounds and pence, and kilowatt hours (kWh). So if you're looking to reduce what you use and save on your bills, the meters can help you figure out where and when you're using most energy and where you can cut back.

  • You'll need one meter for your gas, one for electricity. They'll go in the same spot your current meters if that's easy and accessible, but an engineer may ask to move them.

Switch to save £100s/year. Though smart meters may help you get accurate bills and cut down your usage, the best way to save on your energy is to switch supplier - many can slash up £100s/year off their bills. Do a full comparison via our Cheap Energy Club to find your best deal.

Switching can affect how some smart meters work - but DON'T let this put you off getting a better deal. See more on switching with smart meters.

Quick questions

Why are smart meters being rolled out?

Are there different types of smart meters?

Do I have to get smart meters?

Can my energy be cut off remotely?

Am I eligible for a smart meter?

The key decider - though there are others - is whether your supplier (or one you switch to) is installing them in your area yet.

They're being rolled out area-by-area so you may be in luck, but if not you may have to wait a few months or years. However, some smaller firms don't offer them at all yet.

Suppliers do not publish lists of which areas they're installed in yet nor a timetable for future roll-outs. The best you can do is to check if they're available now in your area now. Use the links below - they're technically only open to existing customers but if you want to switch to one of these firms you could always call them up to check.

Check if smart meters are available in your area yet

Ovo

SSE

For a few smaller companies you can check Smart Energy GB's smart meter page or if it's not there, ask contact your supplier to ask about its plans.

More smart meter eligibility questions

Can I get smart meters if I'm renting?

Can I get them if I'm a prepay customer?

Can I get smart meters if my meters aren't in my property?

I'm on Economy 7 or 10 - can I get a smart meter?

Can I get a smart meter if I have solar panels?

You can still switch with a smart meter - but it might go 'dumb'

On the face of it, there's no reason why you wouldn't get smart meters. They make sending readings easy, and also give you assistance in seeing what you're spending and cutting that down.

However, in most cases, the current smart meters come with a snag:

Switch energy supplier (which is a good thing if it'll save you £100s/yr) and your smart meters may go 'dumb', meaning you lose some functionality.

Don't let this put you off or hold you back from switching - do a Cheap Energy Club comparison to see what you could save. After all, if you get one now for the first time and then switch to a better deal and lose full functionality you're back in the same position as now, only having saved heaps of cash.

If this'll stop you from switching, at least check you're on your supplier's cheapest tariff - use our 'My Current Supplier' filter in our Cheap Energy Club to find your provider's cheapest.

What exactly happens to most smart meters after switching?

The current version of smart meters are known by the catchy moniker SMETS 1 (it stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications, the technical standards the first-generation meters need to meet). If you've got these meters, they communicate with your supplier over the 3G network.

When you switch, it's unlikely your new supplier will be able to pick up that communication, so while it'll work as a basic meter, it'll go 'dumb', and you'll need to start doing manual meter readings again.

The in-home display should still work - giving you your usage in kilowatt hours, though it might not be able to tell you how much you're spending in pounds and pence as that's supplier specific.

If you're one of the very few people with a second-generation SMETS 2 meter, these use their own communications systems via a central data network which all suppliers have (or will have) access to. So, when you switch, your new supplier should be able to see your usage and meter readings, and your in-home display should show you your usage with the new supplier's costs.

Quick questions

How do I know if my smart meter will go dumb?

After switching, when will my smart meter start being smart again?

When is my supplier installing smart meters that don't go dumb when I switch?

How do I get a free smart meter?

If your home is eligible and you've made the decision to get one, here are your options:

  • As many suppliers are rolling them out area-by-area you can wait till it's your turn but that could take months or years.
  • You can try to jump the queue by asking your supplier. If it's fitting them in your area it's usually just a case of booking an engineer which should hopefully be within a few weeks.
  • If they're not available in your area yet you can register your interest which should push you up the pecking order when the time's right.

Use these links to check with your supplier:

Check if smart meters are available in your area yet

Ovo

SSE

For a few smaller companies you can check Smart Energy GB's smart meter page or if it's not there, simply call your supplier.

Quick questions

I've decided I want smart meters. What's the fitting process?

I have a different supplier for gas and electric - what do I need do?

Where will the smart meters be installed?

How often will my smart meter readings be automatically sent?

I'm moving home - what happens to my smart meters?

I've moved to a new home with smart meters - what should I do?

Do I need an internet connection?

My in-home display is broken. What should I do?

Smart meters are not the same as smart thermostats

It's easy to confuse smart meters and in-home displays for smart thermostats, but they're actually different pieces of kit. Smart thermostats – such as Hive, Nest, Tado, etc – allow you to control your thermostat remotely. That means you can switch the heating on and off online or via an app, letting you control it when you're out the house so you can come back to a warm home or stop wasting heat on an empty one.

Smart meters can't do this - you won't be able to control any appliances remotely. However, smart thermostats won't help you get more accurate bills as they don't communicate with your energy supplier, and though some can provide information on your energy use, it won't be as instant as the in-home display.

Smart thermostats typically cost £100-£250, often including installation by a qualified electrician.

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