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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: March 2021
What is a smart meter?
A smart energy meter aims to give both you and your supplier more accurate information about how much energy you are using. They keep a running count of how much you use, in much the same way as traditional gas and electricity meters. The main difference is that they then send this information over a wireless network to your supplier.
A smart meter comes with an in-home display which will clearly show you how much energy you are using and how much this will be costing. In doing so, the idea is that they help you to keep closer control on your usage.
They work using wireless networks, similar to those used by your phone. The information is sent direct to your supplier meaning there is no need to read your meter. Some smart meters also come with accompanying apps so you can monitor your usage on the go. For pay as you go customers, it also means you can top up on your phone without having to go to a paypoint or shop.
Smart meters are connected to the mains and also linked to the wireless network. Most of the time they are ‘asleep’, only waking every half an hour to take an up to date reading. They transmit this data via a communications hub to a smart meter home area network.
There are two types of smart meter: first generation and second generation. First generation meters lose functionality when suppliers are switched. This is a flaw that has been ironed out for the second generation models. Most suppliers are now offering second generation meters.
Is it worth getting a smart meter?
More than 20 million homes now have smart meters and most of these are benefitting from the improved control that they give to users. With up to the minute and easy to use displays, you can see how much you are using and how much this will cost. If energy use and rising bills are a concern for you, then a smart meter might be the solution.
Is it compulsory to have a smart meter?
Do you have to have a smart meter? The answer is no. It is entirely up to you whether you make the change to a smart meter or not. However, it’s worth noting that the second generation smart meters don’t have the problems associated with the first generation models. Check with your energy company that they are installing the second generation meters before making the switch. Almost all will be using second generation at this point but it’s always a good idea to make sure.
If so, when is it obligatory to have a smart meter?
As stated above, you do not have to have a smart meter. Initially the government said that every home in the UK should have a smart meter installed by 2020. They have since changed that to everyone being simply ‘offered’ a smart meter. While more than 20 million homes have a smart meter so far, there is no obligation to do so and you can simply remain as you are with your current setup.
While Ofgem believes that everyone can benefit from a smart meter, they are not compulsory and you have the right to refuse one if you wish. You can always change your mind and have one installed at a later date.
Can you refuse to have a smart meter?
It’s not really a question of refusing, as such. Whether you have a smart meter or not is up to you. Your energy company might make the offer to install one for you but you simply say you are happy as you are. You can always change your mind in the future.
If you do choose to have a smart meter installed, you also get to have a say in what data your energy company is allowed to use.
How to obtain a smart meter
It is very easy to get a smart meter installed. Simply contact your energy company and arrange an appointment to have one installed. The actual installation itself will be carried out by a trained engineer from the energy company, but you will be required to remain at home during the work.
Are smart meters safe?
While there has been some talk about radio waves and other high frequencies from smart meters causing health issues, all the evidence so far suggests that the radio waves produced by smart meters don’t pose any health risks. They are no more dangerous than using a mobile phone.
In fact, it is often the case that smart meter installation discovers other safety issues with your wiring or electrical connections. In 2017 and 2018, around 635,000 problems were identified by engineers fitting smart meters that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. So, having a smart meter installed is actually safer than choosing not to.
What are the concerns with having a smart meter?
As mentioned above, there are a number of concerns with smart meters that have put a lot of people off. The history of smart meters has been a catalogue of errors, much of which has made headlines and left many consumers angry and confused. These issues include:
- First generation smart meters can lose functionality if your switch suppliers
- Misleading statements about costs have caused a lot of confusion and tried to disguise the fact that ultimately consumers will be paying for smart meters
- They don’t actually make any difference to consumption by themselves, they rely on you to make changes to your habits
- They can cause energy anxiety with some people worrying about how much they are using
What data does my smart meter collect?
Smart meters collect a number of key data points. These include energy use in real time and the times of consumption throughout the day. This data is then used to:
- Manage your energy supply, and spot any issues
- Give you advice to help you reduce your energy use and bills
- Improve service
- Identify and stop energy theft
- Work out your bills
Before you agree to a smart meter, you can talk to your supplier about what kind of data you give them permission to use.
What is the cost to install a smart meter?
There are no initial costs for a smart meter. They are free to install. However, there has been some misleading information around this issue. The costs of the smart meter are built into your energy plan, and form part of your standing charge that you pay to your supplier. This works in exactly the same way as older style meters. So, while there are no direct charges and installation costs, you will pay for your meter over time as you do currently.
Do you have to have connection to the internet to have a smart meter?
No, you don’t need to have the internet to have a smart meter installed. All smart meters use a national wireless communication network that sends information to your supplier. Currently around 99% of UK homes are connected using this mobile network for smart meters.
Can I still switch suppliers with a smart meter?
Yes, you can always switch suppliers no matter what kind of meter you have. However, if you have a first gen smart meter installed, there is a chance you will lose some of the functionality when you switch. If you have a second generation meter then there should be no issues around switching.
Can you obtain a smart meter in a rented house?
It depends on who pays the bills. If you pay your energy supplier for the energy consumed in your rented property and your name is on the bill, you can choose to have a smart meter installed. If the contract is in the name of your landlord and they pay the bill for the property, the decision to get a smart meter is theirs. You can still ask them to install one but you have no legal right to make the decision yourself.
What are your rights after having a smart meter installed?
A smart meter will take readings of your data every 30 minutes. It will store this information but you have a say over how this is used apart from the basic information needed for your bill and other regulation purposes.
Suppliers have general access to your data for these purposes but have to ask your permission to access the half hourly data or to use this for marketing purposes. You will be able to see your data at all times on the display on the unit.
You still have the right to switch suppliers at any time.
- A guide on how to read your smart meter
- A guide for your second generation smart meter
- A guide to topping up your smart meter
Updated on 31 Mar, 2021