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Smart meters: what are they and should you get one?

By 2025, every home and office in England, Scotland and Wales will be offered a smart meter.

Letting you keep track of your energy usage in real-time, smart meters could help you cut your bills this winter.

Here’s the breakdown.  

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What is a smart meter? 

Smart meters are digital displays that, through a remote connection to your energy supplier, keep real-time track of all your energy consumption.

Typically, your screen will display two dials, one tracking your electricity and the other your gas.

So if you turn on the kettle, you will see your electricity usage increase.  

Smart meters began rolling out to households in the UK in 2012, as part of an EU-wide scheme designed to help households control their energy usage.

And, as well as letting people see exactly how much energy they are using, smart meters also save households money by ensuring that they are charged the right amount on their energy bills, rather than working off rough estimates as in the past.  

What are the types of smart meter? 

There are two main types of smart meters.

The first generation of meters, SMETS 1, primarily used mobile networks to communicate your energy readings to your supplier.

The only issue with these networks was that if you lived in an area with poor network coverage, some readings could fluctuate.  

The newer smart meters, SMETS 2, use a bespoke and secure network meaning that all households get accurate readings regardless of their level of mobile coverage.

With more accurate readings, it’s much easier for households to switch energy suppliers without any delays.  

What are the advantages of a smart meter? 

Smart meters are particularly good for the environment, but are also good for your finances.

From an environmental perspective, it’s estimated that in 2022 alone, UK businesses will waste enough energy to power the greater London region for seven years.

Government figures also show that the installation of smart meters across the UK could reduce carbon emissions by nearly 45 million tonnes over the next 25 years.  

So while smart meters can have a major impact on cutting carbon emissions and energy wastage, they can also help households save lots of money on their energy bills.

Smart meters don’t make savings simply by being installed, but, by giving automatic updates on how much electricity and gas households are using, it gets that little bit easier to find ways to cut back on our energy wastage.

In doing so, Smart Energy GB estimates that Britain would save £560 million if every single household used a smart meter, based on a 2 per cent average energy consumption saving each year.  

Are there disadvantages to getting a smart meter? 

The main issues with smart meters typically come from the first generation of smart meters, SMETS 1.

This smart meter used mobile networks to communicate your data to your energy supplier, but if you were poorly served by your mobile network, this often went wrong.  

And, if you decided to change your energy provider having already had a smart meter installed, the SMETS 1 was poorly optimised to respond.

It normally needed an update, before which the meter almost stopped working. 

Thankfully with the new SMETS 2 smart meters, these problems have been ironed out, meaning that there are more advantages to getting smart meters installed than not.  

Should you get a smart meter? 

Deciding whether or not you should get a smart meter is a personal choice.

On the one hand, smart meters are good for the environment and can help you save money.

And with energy bills only getting more expensive, this is a free and easy way to keep a closer eye on your energy usage.  

But, while the government is planning to offer a smart meter to every household and business by 2025, it isn’t compulsory to get one.

Whether you choose to go smart or not is entirely up to you.  

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How long does it take to install a smart meter? 

Installing a smart meter normally takes around three hours for both electricity and gas.

If you are getting a smart meter that tracks only one type of your energy consumption, for example just electricity or just gas, it will take less time.  

Are you eligible for a smart meter? 

Smart meters are being offered to people who are responsible for paying energy bills at any property.

If you are a homeowner or a landlord who is responsible for paying bills, you should be offered a smart meter by your energy provider.

Or if you are a renter who is responsible for organising and paying energy bills in a property, you can also choose to get a smart meter, although you should let your landlord know in advance.  

How do you get a smart meter? 

Every household in the UK will be offered a smart meter by 2025, and your energy provider has to provide and install your smart meter at no extra charge.

If you haven’t already been contacted about switching to a smart meter, you may be able to request a smart meter directly from your provider.

Or, you can use Smart Energy GB’s online tool to request a smart meter. 

Can a business get a smart meter? 

Most small businesses can get smart meters for no extra cost.

If your organisation has fewer than 10 employees, you should be contacted by your energy supplier.  

The rising cost of energy is a concern for everyone and can impact your finances.

Help keep your financial goals within reach by speaking to a financial adviser today.

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About the author
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.