smart meters

Smart Meters

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

Energy suppliers are gradually installing the next generation of gas and electricity meters, called smart meters. The Government's ambition is for everyone in England, Scotland and Wales to be offered them at no upfront cost in the next few years. But with many deals now requiring smart meters, what exactly are they, should you get them, and what happens if you switch?

Coronavirus and smart meters

Suppliers are installing smart meters as normal. However, they won't install them if anyone in your household is self-isolating, is in a higher-risk group or has had symptoms in the last month.

If you're on a tariff that requires smart meters, precautions are in place for home visits and you don’t have to get them fitted until you feel comfortable letting an engineer in your home. See our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide for the latest information.

Switch to save £100+/yr. Though smart meters may help you get accurate bills and cut down your usage, the best way to save on energy is to switch supplier – many can slash £100+/year off their bills. Try out our new MSE Pick Me A Tariff tools or do a full comparison via our Cheap Energy Club to find your best deal.

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What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are next-generation gas and electricity meters, and as well as being available at no upfront cost, they offer a number of benefits over traditional meters:

  • Automatic meter readings. You get one meter for gas and one for electricity – they'll usually go where your existing meters are. They then send your usage information automatically to suppliers, so no more scrabbling around in dark cupboards or 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 showing usage 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 gadget that communicates wirelessly with your smart meters, monitoring what energy you're using and showing you how much it costs, in near real time. It gives readings in pounds and pence, and kilowatt hours (kWh), so it can help you identify where you can cut back.

Quick questions

  • Smart meters are an upgrade to the energy system, allowing the UK to adopt a so-called 'smart grid'. It's expected that better information on energy use in homes and businesses should create a more efficient and reliable energy supply network, which can plan to supply energy peaks at the right time.

    Smart meters are also there to help us manage our energy better as well – letting us see more information on our day-to-day energy use and spot ways to cut back.

    All suppliers are obliged to offer them and they have targets to ensure a certain proportion of their customers have smart meters installed each year. Missing these targets can mean big fines, which is why some now offer cheap tariffs that require you to get smart meters as an incentive.

  • No. Whether you get one now, in the future or not at all is up to you. All suppliers will eventually be required to offer you them, but smart meters are NOT mandatory – you're free to say no. You can always change your mind if you decide you want one at a later date, simply contact your supplier to ask.

    However, some suppliers – particularly the big six – are now making smart meters a condition of getting their cheapest deals (if you're eligible to get them), so it's worth looking out for. However, as it is mostly the newer meters now being rolled out, there is no real reason for not having them.

  • While it's possible, there are strict regulations against your supplier switching off or disconnecting your gas or electricity – as there are for standard meters – and providers are required to help customers struggling to pay their bills.

    Disconnection is very rare and often a last resort for your supplier once all other options have been looked at. Ofgem said there were just six disconnections in total in 2018.

There are two different models of smart meters

Of the 23 million smart meters installed across the country so far, about 18 million are SMETS 1 meters, with about five million SMETS 2 meters.

  • SMETS 1: This is the first generation of smart meter technology, known as SMETS 1 ('Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications'). They communicate with your supplier over the 3G network. When you switch energy supplier, it's unlikely the new supplier will be able to pick up that communication, so they'll still work as basic meters but they'll go 'dumb' and lose some functionality. These are no longer being installed, and there is a plan in place to upgrade those already installed to restore lost functionality and enable them to remain 'smart' if you switch in future. 

  • SMETS 2: If you've had smart meters installed over the last few years, or you're set to get them, you'll likely have a second-generation SMETS 2 meter. These use their own communications systems via a central data network to which all suppliers have access. 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 Question

  • The plan is for all SMETS 1 meters to be remotely upgraded with software to allow them to meet SMETS 2 specifications and be connected to the central network. 

    The Government-backed Data Communications Company (DCC), which is responsible for putting the infrastructure in that underpins the roll-out of smart meters, told us it has upgraded over 3.5 million meters so far. There's no set date for the upgrade to be completed, but eventually all SMETS 1 meters will be updated. 

    Your meter will be upgraded remotely, so you won't have to do anything. But it's up to your supplier to inform you when it's going to take place and whether it was successful or not. In the unlikely event your meter can't be updated remotely, worst case is you'll need to have your SMETS 1 meters replaced with SMETS 2 meters. Annoying and inconvenient, but not the end of the world.

Am I eligible for smart meters?

The main decider – though there are others – is whether your supplier (or one you switch to) is installing them in your area. About 23 million have been installed so far, but the full roll-out is set to be pushed back to 2025, with doubt that even the revised target will be met. 

The bigger suppliers are installing in most areas now, as they have stricter installation targets to hit. If you're with a smaller supplier, availability will still mainly depend on whether it is installing in your area.

Suppliers don't publish lists of which areas they've installed smart meters in so far, nor a timetable for future roll-outs. The best you can do is to check if they're installing where you are. Use the links below – they're technically for existing customers, but if you want to switch to one of these firms you could always call to check.

CHECK IF SMART METERS ARE AVAILABLE IN YOUR AREA
British Gas E.on EDF
Npower
Ovo Scottish Power Shell Energy SSE

For smaller companies, check the campaign group Smart Energy GB's smart meter page, which will direct you to info on your provider's plans. If your supplier's not there, contact it to ask about its plans, as some smaller firms are not offering them in all areas right now.

More smart meter eligibility questions

  • Yes. If you pay the bills and they're addressed to you, you can choose to have one installed. However, Ofgem recommends you tell your landlord before you get one. That's because there may be rules in your tenancy agreement about how energy is supplied to the property, including the type of meter that can be installed.

    If your gas and electricity is included in your rent and your landlord receives the bills, they will probably need to sort it for you as the gas and electric accounts will be in their name.

  • Yes, you can get smart meters if you prepay for your energy – where you pay in advance and top up using a key or card.

    That said, for most people it's best to switch to a credit meter, where you pay once you've received a bill ASAP – check our Prepay Gas & Electric guide for information on how to do that.

    If you'll stick with a prepay plan, there are a few additional benefits of having one on a smart meter:

    • It's easy to switch to a credit meter. It just takes a software update, rather than a new meter. This is crucial as energy is cheaper on a normal credit meter, plus there's more choice of tariffs.

    • It's easier to top up. You can usually do it online, via an app, by phone, by text or in person. You're more restricted with a standard prepay meter.

    • It's easier to check your credit. It'll be on your in-home display.

    • Get alerts. If you're running low, or your meter's running on emergency credit, you can get alerts on your in-home display to let you know that you need to top up.
  • Yes, and they should usually work, but not always. We're talking about when your meters are not actually inside the boundary of your home – eg, you live in a flat and they're in a communal corridor or cupboard.

    Here, it's possible your in-home display won't connect to the meters for now. However, the body promoting smart meters, Smart Energy GB, says this problem is rare.

  • Economy 7 and 10 are tariffs which charge different amounts at different times of day. Some suppliers have now started offering smart meters capable of handling these 'two-rate tariffs', but not all – most are concentrating on standard gas and electricity-supplied homes. Always check before agreeing to have one installed.

    With smart meters, it'll eventually be easier to switch between these tariffs and standard deals – you'll no longer need to have a new meter installed, which suppliers often charge for. If you're not sure whether you should leave Economy 7 behind, check Is Economy 7 right for you?

    If you're on one of these two-rate tariffs, your smart meter should automatically send meter readings for the low and high-rate periods, but it's always worth double-checking your tariff is set up correctly once the meters are installed.

  • Yes, though like traditional meters they will only track energy you get from your supplier, rather than what you generate yourself or export back to the grid.

    This could change in future, as smart meters have the potential to track generated energy – though there's no word yet on when this might happen.

Can I switch with smart meters and will mine go 'dumb'?

Yes, you can still switch your energy provider with smart meters. And on the face of it, there's no reason why you wouldn't get them. They make sending readings easy, and also show your spending and how much energy you are using, to help you cut down your usage.

However, many are concerned that these meters will lose smart functionality after an energy switch, but this all comes down to which type of smart meter you have.

If you've had smart meters installed recently, or are going to get them, they'll likely be second generation SMETS 2 meters. As there is a central data network to which all suppliers have access, when you switch, your new supplier should be able to see your usage and meter readings, and your in-home display should show your usage with the new supplier's costs.

However, if you're one of the 18 million early adopters of smart meters who have the first generation SMETS 1 meters, they come with a snag. They communicate with your supplier over the 3G network and when you switch, it's unlikely your new supplier will be able to pick up that communication, so while they'll work as basic meters, they'll go 'dumb', and you'll need to start taking manual meter readings again.

But don't worry, there's an upgrade on the way (see below) to restore the smart functionality if yours has gone dumb. 

Don't let that put you off switching 

If you've a SMETS 1 meter, don't let this hold you back from switching – do a Cheap Energy Club comparison to see what you could save.

Quick questions

  • There's no way to know from looking if your smart meters are SMETS 1 or 2 – the best way to know is to contact your supplier to ask.

    If you had a smart meter installed before spring 2019, it will most likely be a SMETS 1 meter, meaning when you switch, your new energy supplier probably won't be able to read your data and your meters will go 'dumb'. So you'll need to get used to giving meter readings manually again, at least in the short term. The in-home display should still work – giving you your usage in kWh, though it might not be able to tell you how much you're spending in pounds and pence, as that's supplier-specific.

    Suppliers are now only installing SMETS 2 meters now and these continue to work when you switch supplier. 

  • Unfortunately, there's no easy way of knowing or finding out. The plan is for SMETS 1 meters to be remotely upgraded with software to allow them to meet SMETS 2 specifications and be connected to the central network. It was originally due to be completed by the end of 2020, but there have been numerous delays. 

    The Government-backed Data Communications Company (DCC), which is responsible for putting the infrastructure in that underpins the roll-out of smart meters, told us that 3.5 million SMETS 1 meters have been upgraded so far – but that leaves around 14 million meters still to go. 

     It told us that it is prioritising meters that have gone 'dumb', so if you have switched and your meter lost functionality, yours should either already be upgraded or will be shortly. 

    However, the DCC wouldn't give us a timeline of when it expects all SMETS 1 meters to be upgraded. 

How do I get 'free' smart meters?

If your home is eligible and you've made the decision to get smart meters, 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.
  • 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 to visit, which should be within a few weeks.
  • You can switch to a deal that requires you to have smart meters installed – that way, it'll be installed for free if you can get them, usually within three months.
  • 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.

We've compiled a list of what the biggest companies are doing – all say they're installing nationwide, but there are some people who won't be able to get one yet. The table shows this, plus tells you how to get smart meters from these suppliers if you want them.

Note: The information in the table below on availability and timescales is each supplier's general guidance. This will likely be affected by the current coronavirus situation.

Smart meter eligibility and how to get them

SUPPLIER YOU CAN GET UNLESS... HOW AND WHEN CAN I GET ONE IF I'M ELIGIBLE (1)
British Gas  - You're on Economy 7 and use storage heaters
- You're in an area with poor signal strength
You can request one and you'll usually get an installation date within two weeks
E.on - You're in an area with poor signal strength You can request one and E.on will aim to get you an installation date within 28 days
EDF - You're in an area with poor signal strength Log in to your EDF account and you can book installation online – it'll show available dates for up to 30 days ahead 
Ovo Energy  - You're in an area with poor signal strength You can request one online or over the phone 
Scottish Power  - You're on Economy 7
- You're in an area with poor signal strength
 
You can request one and Scottish Power will aim to get you an installation date within two weeks
Shell Energy  - You're on Economy 7
- You're in an area with poor signal strength
You can request one online, by phone or email – Shell Energy will aim to get you an installation date within two weeks
SSE - You're in an area with poor signal strength You can request one online or over the phone
Last updated: May 2021. (1) You can also wait until your supplier contacts you and offers you one, or register your interest if you can't get one now – you'll then be contacted when you can.

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

  • If you're eligible and your energy supplier has agreed to fit smart meters in your home, it should arrange a suitable time and date to do so. Sometimes you can book appointments online. If your meter is difficult to access, let your supplier know when booking your installation.

    The installation itself takes one to two hours, depending on whether you have gas and electricity, or just one. During this time, your supply will need to be switched off, so it's best to do it at a quiet time when everyone (except you) is out.

    As well as fitting the meters, the installer should explain how it all works, and run you through the in-home display – if you decided to get one.

    Your installer may offer safety and energy-efficiency advice – but they're NOT allowed to sell you anything – and they can only tell you about other products and services available from your supplier if you've agreed to it beforehand.

  • You'll need to arrange installation of the smart gas meter and smart electricity meter with each supplier separately – and you'll have to be at home for both.

    You won't need two in-home displays though. The supplier installing the first smart meter should set up your in-home display for that meter. Then, when the installer from your other supplier comes to install the second one, they're responsible for updating your device so you can see your energy information from both meters on one display.

  • Usually, your new smart meters will simply replace your old gas and electricity meters – so they should be in exactly the same place.

    If they need to be moved, your smart meter installer will ask you first and you shouldn't be charged extra.

    If you want them moved, you may need to pay – talk to your supplier.

  • Meter readings are sent monthly at a minimum. You can also choose to send daily readings or even half-hourly ones if you want.

  • As with normal meters, you can't take them with you, and you should leave the in-home display too as it only works with the smart meter(s) it was installed with.

    Although the meters should communicate final meter readings, it's worth you knowing them too so you can ensure you're correctly billed. Take a photo to be safe.

  • You shouldn't need to do anything to the meters, but – as you would with an old-style meter – take an opening reading to ensure you only pay for what you use (take a photo in case of disputes). Then call the supplier to let it know you've moved in, open an account and, if needed, give the opening meter reading.

    If there's no in-home display for the smart meters, get in touch with the supplier at your new home. It should check what type of meter you have and arrange for a smart meter installer to visit – as long as it installed the meters, it won't replace them, just set you up with a new in-home display.

    If you move into a home and the smart meter has gone 'dumb' (see You can still switch for more info), you'll need to treat it like an old-style meter, and send regular meter readings to your supplier.

    As always, once you've moved in you'll be automatically put on a 'deemed tariff' – usually the supplier's expensive standard variable deal – so make sure you do a comparison to find a cheaper deal. You can use Cheap Energy Club to find one – plus it'll help you estimate your usage at your new home.

    Even if you're reluctant to switch, at least grab the supplier's cheapest – check the 'My Current Supplier' option in Cheap Energy Club to see all its deals and find the best one for you.

  • No, smart meters use mobile phone signals to transmit meter readings to your supplier and to talk to the in-home display. You don't need an internet connection or Wi-Fi to get one.

    Some suppliers are offering in-home displays that can connect to your Wi-Fi, so you can access all your data whenever and wherever you are online or via an app – though this is optional.

  • If your in-home display breaks or develops a fault, you can get a new one for free if you've had it less than 12 months. After this, you may need to pay for a replacement.

Smart meters are NOT mandatory

Whether you get one now, in future or not at all is up to you. We've seen reports from users of their energy provider applying pressure on them to take a smart meter or failing to point out that they are not compulsory.

All suppliers will eventually be required to offer you one, but smart meters are NOT mandatory – you're free to say no. You can always change your mind if you decide you want one at a later date – simply contact your supplier and ask.

It's worth noting that there are some tariffs out there where smart meters are required in order to get the tariff at the advertised rates. When this is the case, the supplier has to make it clear in its Ts&Cs. Failure to have one installed within the agreed timeframe (if you don't have them already and are eligible) could mean you'll be placed on another tariff, which may be more expensive and you could be charged an exit fee.

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 those from Hive, Nest, Tado etc – allow you to control your thermostat remotely. This means you can switch the heating on or off online or via an app, letting you control it when you're not in, 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 £150-£250, often including installation by a qualified electrician – see Smart Thermostats for more info.

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