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Smart Meters

What are they, should you get one & could yours go 'dumb'?

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Andrew | Edited by Guy

Updated September 2018

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

At the end of June 2018, about 12.5 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 ask questions in the Smart Meters 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 meter for gas and one for electric – 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 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 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.

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 energy is to switch supplier – many can slash £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 main 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 even years. However, currently some smaller firms don't offer them at all.

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 available in your area now. 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

Ovo

SSE

For a few smaller companies you can check the campaign group Smart Energy GB's smart meter page – if your supplier's not there, contact it 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 actually in my property?

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

Can I get smart meters 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. They'll still work as basic meters though.

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 before, 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 Cheap Energy Club to find your provider's cheapest.

What exactly happens to most smart meters after switching?

The current version of smart meters is 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 they'll work as basic meters, they'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 kWh, 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 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 SMETS 2 meters?

How do I get a free smart meter?

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 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 to visit, which should 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.

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 companies, if you want them.

Will my energy supplier install a smart meter for me now?
Supplier You can't get one if... How and when can I get one if i'm eligible? (1)
British Gas

- You're on Economy 7
- You only have gas supplied by British Gas
- You're in an area with poor signal strength

You can request one and you'll usually get an installation date within two weeks

EDF

- You're on prepay
- You're on Economy 7 (2)
- 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
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
First Utility

- You're on Economy 7
- You're in an area with poor signal strength

You can request one by phone or email – First Utility will aim to get you an installation date within two weeks
Npower

- You're on prepay
- You're on Economy 7
- You're in an area with poor signal strength

Npower will offer one. It'll send you a letter with your installation date about three weeks beforehand. You can't book, though you can register your interest

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 prepay
- You're on Economy 7
- You're in an area with poor signal strength

You can request one and Scottish Power will usually arrange installation within two weeks
SSE

- You're on prepay in "certain areas"
- You're on Economy 7
- You're in an area with poor signal strength

You can request one and you should get an installation date within two weeks
Last updated: September 2018. (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. (2) EDF has installed meters for a small number on Economy 7, so it's possible you can get them if you're on this type of tariff.

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 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 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.

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.

energy on phone
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