November 2, 2020

Smart Meters: Everything you need to know.

Over 20 million Smart meters have now been installed in homes across the UK and if you haven't already had one fitted, it's likely that your supplier will be in touch about installing one in the not too distant future.

Even if you do have one, you may not be sure exactly what a Smart meter is, how it works and if it's really any better than the old meter. So here is our guide, answering the most common questions we are asked about Smart meters.  

What is a Smart meter?

A Smart Meter Display Unit

A Smart meter is just a new type of gas or electricity meter. It does exactly the same job as your previous meter, ie: it measures how much gas or electricity you use over time.

The big difference is that rather than having to stick your head in a cupboard or go outside to read your meter, a Smart meter automatically takes a meter reading every 30 minutes and sends this directly to your energy supplier(s), so you don't have to submit meter reads yourself.

When you get a Smart meter you'll also be given a small display unit which shows you how much energy you're using in real-time, which can help you adjust your habits and reduce your usage.

How do they work?

When suppliers started installing Smart Meters back in 2013, they used the mobile telephone network to transmit data back to energy suppliers.

This lead to issues for customers in areas with a poor signal, who still had to submit meter readings manually and, if you switched your energy supplier these ‘first generation’ smart meters would go ‘dumb’ meaning you were back to taking and submitting meter readings manually.

However, the Smart meters now being fitted are ‘second generation’ or ‘SMETS2’ meters. These use a dedicated, secure network to send meter readings to your energy suppliers. This network is operated by an independent body and means people in areas with poor mobile signal can now access all the functionality of the new technology and your meter won’t go dumb when you switch.

Work is also underway to upgrade older, first generation meters so they can use the secure network. This will mean anyone with an old Smart meter will also be able switch without losing smart functionality in their device.

Are Smart meters accurate?

Yes. And providing your supplier with more frequent, accurate meter readings means more accurate bills.

If you don’t provide regular meter readings, which many of us don’t, your supplier will estimate what they think your usage has been and bill you for that. An estimated bill will either charge you more than you owe, or not enough meaning you end up with a big bill at the end of the year.

With a Smart meter the supplier gets an accurate reading up to 24 times a day, so your bill will always reflect the energy you’ve actually used.

Is my data safe?

Yes. The secure network is licensed by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and endorsed by the National Cyber Security Centre.

The data stored by your Smart meter can only be accessed by your energy supplier and the energy network - that's the people that run the pipes and wires that deliver power to your home – to ensure your bills are accurate.

And while suppliers can access your daily data unless you object, they have to get your permission to access half-hourly data or to use it for marketing purposes such as offering you a new ‘smart tariff’ that charges different amounts at different times of day.

Do I need a Smart meter?

You don't ‘need’ a Smart meter, but it doesn't cost you anything to have one installed and the sooner everybody has one the sooner suppliers will be able to start offering more cheaper, greener energy.

One of the big, long term benefits of all homes having Smart meters is it will enable the energy networks to monitor supply and demand much more accurately and in much more detail. This data will enable us all to use the energy produced by renewable sources most efficiently.

The only people who could benefit from having a Smart meter right now are electric vehicle (EV) owners who charge their EV at home overnight, as a Smart meter will enable their supplier to charge them different rates at different times of the day. But even then this may not save you much compared to a great value 'normal' tariff, find out more HERE -->

Do I have to have a Smart meter?

You don't have to have a Smart meter, but as with the previous question, not having one could see you lose out in the long term as suppliers begin to offer smart meter users better tariffs and cheaper, greener energy because of the data they are getting via Smart meters.

Will a Smart meter save me money?

No. If you stay on the same tariff and use the same amount of energy, your bill will be the same whatever sort of meter you have.

Research by Ofgem has shown that customers who regularly look at the real-time usage data on their display unit do change their habits and reduce their energy usage, which saves them money - but not everyone does this and this saving is due to different behaviour, not just having a smart meter.

In Summary.

At the moment, having a Smart meter installed isn't really a good or a bad thing. It won’t magically reduce your bill, but it doesn’t stop you switching to a better deal either.  

However, getting a SMETS2 Smart meter will mean you get accurate bills without needing to provide manual meter readings and longer term will help everyone get cheaper, cleaner energy. So if your supplier calls to offer you one of these we would suggest you say 'Yes'.

If you have any further questions, the Flipper team will be happy to answer them and if you’d like to switch to cheaper energy right now - whether your meter is Smart or not - you can sign up to Flipper HERE-->

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