A smart meter tells you how much gas and electricity you’ve used, just like a normal meter.
The difference is that a smart meter sends your energy information to your supplier. This is automatic and uses a secure smart meter network.
So, if you decide to get a smart meter, you can say goodbye to estimated bills and hello to only paying for energy you use.
Let's look at whether they're the right choice for you.
How do smart meters work?
Smart meters have 2 parts: The meter itself, and the in-home display (IHD). Here's how it works:
- Engineers install the new meters, which replace your existing units
- These new meters send your meter readings to your supplier through the smart meter network
- The IHD gives you a real-time update on how much energy you’re using and its cost
You should be able to see the meter update as you boil the kettle or watch TV. This might help you make better use of your energy and save some cash in the process.
Some suppliers also have smart meter apps, which give you a deeper look at how you use your energy. Some even let you budget your use from the app itself.
Should I get a smart meter?
Ultimately, it’s up to you. It’s important to remember that it isn’t mandatory to get a smart meter. There just might not be as many tariffs available for you in future if you don’t get one.
It also depends on your circumstances. For example, getting a smart meter installed might be tricky if you rent and your landlord pays for the energy.
Here’s a list of pros and cons to help you decide whether a smart meter is right for you:
No more estimated bills
Real-time updates on how you’re using your energy
Automatic meter readings
If you have a prepayment metre you can see your balance and top it up remotely
Smart meters can detect people’s energy usage more accurately. As a result, energy suppliers could suggest more accurate energy tariffs.
Another positive is that smart meters could save you money. They do this by identifying when it’s cheapest to use energy. Most tariffs at the moment charge a flat rate for energy no matter what time you use it. These more frequent readings could be used to create a ‘time of use’ tariff. This could charge you different amounts for energy at peak and off-peak times.
Off-peak times could mean using power when it's cheaper for suppliers to buy. For example, in the middle of the day or late at night. Peak times could be in the early evening, when people return from work and start using their power at home.
Sometimes energy is cheaper to supply to you if it’s sunny or windy. According to GOV.UK, some people have even been paid to use electricity during windy days.
Smart meters should also help with energy supply, for example with power cuts. With a smart meter, engineers can identify power cuts quickly through the smart meter network and find out what caused them.
There may be a wait to get one installed
Some suppliers might not yet offer them
If you have an older model, it could lose connection when you switch suppliers
Probably the main con of a smart meter is that when you switch suppliers, your smart meter could possibly 'go dumb'. This means it might give you inaccurate readings or just stop working altogether. This does make it more difficult to switch suppliers quickly.
Also, if your mobile signal is erratic your smart meter might not work as well.
How do I get a smart meter?
You can get a smart meter from your energy supplier. Call them and they can arrange a time to install one for you.
Energy suppliers in England, Scotland and Wales should all be providing smart meters for free.
I’ve got a prepayment meter - can I get a smart meter?
Yes, you can. And you might find it a lot easier to use than your current meter.
If you have a prepayment smart meter, you should have all the features of a regular smart meter.
You should also be able to see how much you have left since you last topped up. This could minimise the chances of you unexpectedly running out of power.
Your supplier might be able to offer you new ways to top up, meaning you don't have to visit a shop. You might even be able to set your meter to top up automatically - this could be helpful if you tend to run out of power late at night when the shops are shut.
If you do end up switching from a prepayment meter to a credit or debit tariff, you don't need to change your smart meter either.
Can I get a smart meter if I’m renting?
If you’re the one paying the energy bills, then yes you can.
Although you may not need the landlord’s permission to get a smart meter, it's worth speaking to them before you get one installed. There may be something in your contract that prevents you from getting one fitted.
If your landlord pays the bills, then it's the landlord's responsibility to request the smart meter themselves.
How do I read a smart meter?
You don’t need to take meter readings with a smart meter – your supplier automatically gets these.
But your IHD unit should give you all the information you need if you want to keep track of what you’re spending on energy.
The specifics depend on your particular unit. But most should be able to show you your daily, weekly or monthly energy usage. Some show you the cost of this too.
What happens to my smart meter when I switch suppliers?
That depends on the type of smart meter you have. There are 2 kinds of smart meter around at the moment - SMETS1 and SMETS2. SMETS means 'Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications'.
This was the first industry standard smart meter. These were rolled out in 2013.
If you have a SMETS1 meter, you might need to send a final meter reading to your supplier yourself. Because they’re an older type of smart meter, they’re not as ‘connected’ as the SMETS2.
They can sometimes lose connection with the network when you switch suppliers.
Eventually, these will be upgraded and should be more compatible. But in the meantime, you can get in touch with your supplier who should send someone to get your smart meter running again.
This is the second generation of smart meter.
If you’re getting a smart meter for the first time, you’ll likely get a SMETS2.
With the newer SMETS2 meter, you should be able to switch supplier without any hassle.
Can I upgrade my SMETS1 smart meter to an SMETS2?
You don’t need to upgrade your SMETS1 meter, it should eventually receive a software upgrade and be moved to the national smart meter network. This’ll likely make switching suppliers easier.