What is an electric meter? What you need to know


They promise to help you to save money on your bills, understand your usage better, and help you make better decisions about the way you consume energy. You might have heard a lot about smart energy meters in recent years, but it has not all been positive. So, then what is all the talk about them for and do you have to have a smart meter?
Last update: November 2022

Your electric meter counts in units of kilowatt hours, or kWh. The number of kWh you have used will be displayed on your energy meter and will either be sent to your supplier directly (if you have a smart meter) or will be read by a meter technician or by yourself with support from your supplier.

Depending on how many kWh you have used and the price you pay per unit, this is how your electric bill is calculated.

Where is my electric meter?

Most new buildings will have the electric meter located on the exterior of the building in a secure and watertight box. This makes them easier to read for meter technicians, as they do not have to enter the property. It also means you do not have to be home for your meter to be read.

However, older style properties usually have the meter indoors, usually tucked away in a convenient place, either under the stairs or in a hallway cupboard near the front door. They are generally fixed to the wall or in a box.

Types of electric meter

There are a number of different types of electric meter. The following list should help you to identify which type you have in your home.

  1. Standard electric meter – The most common type in the UK featuring a revolving dial display. Gradually being phased out by modern digital and smart meters
  2. Smart meters – These give more accurate and up to date energy information by using a web connection to your supplier. They also have a digital display and can help you to reduce your energy consumption
  3. Economy 7 meter – A special kind of meter that tracks energy in two different periods throughout the day, each with a different price per unit
  4. Prepayment meter – Often called a pay-as-you-go meter. It needs to be topped up with prepaid energy using a key, card, or online app


Types of electricity tariff

There are electricity tariffs that apply to the different kinds of meters and within each meter category. If you pay the bills directly, you are allowed to choose which tariff you use. Each comes with different rates per kWh depending on your usage, with special tariffs for Economy 7 and prepayment options. Some energy providers also offer special deals for smart meters.

How does an electric meter work?

Your electric meter is positioned between the mains supply and the distribution centre for your home’s electricity. That means it counts every kWh your home uses by monitoring the voltage and current passing into your property.

So, when you switch on your oven and it starts to draw power in the form of electricity from the grid, your meter counts the volts that pass through it and keeps a running total. This is displayed on the dial or digital display.

The display shows only how much energy the property has used in total. So, if you want to get an idea of how much you are using in any given time period, you need to take a start and end reading.

Can I install my own meter?

The short answer is no, you’re not allowed to install your own electric meter. This needs to be carried out by a certified electrician. If you need to install or even move a meter, then you should contact your energy provider who can arrange a suitable technician at a convenient time.

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Be aware that this may take some time to arrange and may involve a fee, depending on your requirements. Supplier policies do differ in this area.

Who is responsible for my electric meter?

Your energy provider is responsible for making sure that your gas and electric meters work. If you think there is an issue, get an error message on your display, or think that your bill is unusually high, then get in touch with them to have the issue dealt with. You should not try to to fix the problem yourself or employ an uncertified electrician to do so.

How to read your meter

With so many different types of meters, there are a number of ways to take an electric meter reading. Let’s break them down to make it easier.

Dial meter
Look at the numbers on the dials from left to right, ignoring the final red dial. Make a note of the numbers displayed. If the needle falls between two numbers, note down the last number the needle has passed.

Old style electric meters
These are the designs with a mechanical display that will show five black numbers on a series of rotating wheels. Write down all the black numbers, again ignoring any red ones.

Digital display meters
Most modern meters have a digital display. Simply write down the first five numbers on the display (you may need to press a button to wake the display feature). If you see any reading that starts with 0.1, then ignore it. The first five numbers are the most important.

Economy 7 meters
These can either be in digital or dial form so follow the advice above.

Smart meter
You don’t need to read a smart meter as it will send information directly to your supplier. However, you can use the display or associated app to keep tabs in your usage.

How do I give my electric meter readings to my supplier?

Your supplier is legally bound to read your meter in person at least every two years (if you do not have a smart meter). However, for more accurate billing you may want to provide them with more regular readings. Get in touch with them and they will give you more information on how to read your meter and supply relevant information.

What happens if you bypass your electric meter?

Bypassing your electric meter involves dealing with live wires which can be very dangerous. Even though it is only domestic level voltages, it is still enough to give you a nasty shock or cause serious injury. It is also theft and comes with associated legal penalties.

Around £400 million of electricity was stolen in the UK last year and whilst it might save you money now, if you are caught there could be severe financial penalties. Remember that electricity companies have to come and check their meter every two years, so there is a big chance of getting caught – not to mention the danger involved in attempting to bypass your meter.

If you really want to pay less for your electricity, then you can always switch to a better tariff or more affordable provider.

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What is an electric meter?

An electric meter is a counting device in your home that monitors how much power you are using. This information is then used to calculate how much you owe. The meter is usually placed between the incoming mains electricity and the distribution centre of your home.

What types of electric meter are there?

There are several types of electric meter, including old fashioned mechanical meters, electric and digital displays, Economy 7, prepayment and modern smart meters. Each functions in a different way and it is important you understand which you have in your home.

How do I read my electric meter?

You can read your electric meter either by noting down the readings on the mechanical counter, reading the dials from right to left or making a note of the first five numbers of the digital display. Ignore any red numbers or dials that you may see. For more help with reading your meter you can contact your supplier.

Can I install my own electric meter?

No, you can’t. Meters need to be installed by certified professionals and signed off. Installing or moving your own electric meter is against the law and potentially very dangerous. If you need to install or move your meter, you should call your supplier and ask for more information.

Updated on 29 Jan, 2024

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