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What are smart meters?

By Energy Company Numbers on April 10, 2017 in Help and advice
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Smart meters are well publicised by energy suppliers at the moment, but what are smart meters? How do they work? Why should you even care? In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about smart meters – with information on how to get one.

Our relationship with energy has for too long been one-sided. We’ve relied on basic information to understand our energy consumption from old fashioned meters and sometimes inaccurate information from our suppliers. In an age of smartphones, tablet computers and instant connectivity, this is backwards – we should understand exactly how much energy we are using in real-time, in order to educate and empower ourselves and better our ability to be more environmentally friendly. This is where smart meters come in. Smart meters are handheld devices with a large screen. They display varying information about energy consumption in real-time. This information is unique to your home – and it’s invaluable; imagine being able to see how much extra electricity you use just by having a lamp on, or how much extra gas you use when turning your central heating up.

Smart meters are designed to improve your relationship with energy, while also saving you money – such a product in the energy industry seems as out of place as a new car at a classic car show, but there’s no catch; smart meters really are all about benefiting the end user. Benefits include:

  • Accurate meter readings = accurate bills;
  • See how your energy usage changes throughout the day;
  • See which appliances use the most energy;
  • Reduce the risk of energy theft;
  • Reduce contact time with your supplier in the event of any issues.

How do smart meters work?

Smart meters connect directly to your energy supplier and communicate accurate meter readings. The technologies used by smart meters to perform this task vary, however most use the same wireless technology found in mobile phones such as WiFi or 4G. Because they are connected with the energy supplier, a smart meter can provide accurate real-time data on energy consumption. This is guaranteed 99.99% accurate as the smart meter is connected to the supplier’s main database and the user’s account.

Because smart meters rely on the same technologies as mobile phones (an example being British Gas smart meters, which require a mobile phone signal), users can experience downtime. However, WiFi and LAN smart meters are more reliable, if less widely rolled out.

What do smart meters look like, and are they easy to use?

To use a common phrase, smart meters come in all shapes and sizes. What they all have in common though is that they all have a large screen, with several usability and interface features to ensure that they are easy to use for even the most technologically-challenged of folk, as well as the visual and hearing impaired. Here’s an image of a British Gas smart meter…

British gas smart meter

…and here’s an image (render) of an e.on smart meter:

eon smart meter

While the design, colour and interface of smart meters will vary from supplier to supplier, they all offer the same functionality – and they all use the same technologies. Most will also come with a charging cradle or they will have in-built legs just like broadband hubs have. The longevity of these devices is not yet known – they could last you years or they could conk out after limited usage, but bearing in mind they are rather simple from a technology point of view, there shouldn’t be many issues.

How do I get a smart meter?

Your eligibility for a smart meter depends on your geographic location and who your energy supplier is – unfortunately, no energy supplier has rolled out smart meters to even a third of their customers yet, but this technology is still in its infancy so that’s to be expected (for now).

To check your eligibility for a smart meter, the process starts with contacting your energy supplier or you can visit select energy supplier websites to check your eligibility or register your interest. Here’s the web pages for doing so (not all energy suppliers have such a page – if your energy supplier is not listed then you should give them a call):

British Gas: Visit https://www.britishgas.co.uk/upgrade/smartmeter/ or call 0843 770 5045.

E.on: Visit https://www.eonenergy.com/for-your-home/saving-energy/smart-meters/smart-register-interest or call 0843 770 5036.

EDF: Visit https://edfenergyuk.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/141 or call 0843 770 5028.

Npower: Visit http://www.npower.com/home/help-and-support/types-of-meter/smart-meters/when-will-they-be-fitted/ or call 0843 770 5016.

SSE: Visit http://www.sse.co.uk/HelpAndAdvice/SmartMeters/ or call 0843 770 5091.

Smart meter installation cost

All of the big six are offering smart meter installation for free for new and existing customers. Some smaller, independent energy suppliers are also offering this – it’s best to check with your energy supplier beforehand, however, as some may claim back their costs over time through your energy bills (which is legal, but not very ethical). If that’s the case, your energy supplier must tell you about this. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of a smart meter should be no higher than a regular meter – but this cannot be guaranteed.

Smart meter code of practice (SMICoP)

In April 2013, Ofgem approved a code of practice that tells energy suppliers to develop and follow a licence-backed process of installation. This code of practice specifies the minimum standards for energy suppliers and third party companies to follow in relation to the installation of smart meters, as well as specific activities in the period running up to an installation visit. The aim of SMICoP is to ensure that the customer’s experience is positive and to protect customers during the installation process. All energy suppliers in the UK must adhere to this code of practice.

I already have a smart meter. What happens if I switch?

If you switch your energy supplier, there are a few things that could happen: 1) Your existing smart meter may be compatible with your new supplier, in which case you’ll keep your current device, 2) Your existing smart meter may not not compatible with your new supplier, in which case you’ll get a new smart meter, or 3) You may have to bite the bullet and ditch your smart meter because your new supplier has not yet rolled out smart meters in your area. But you shouldn’t have long to wait – the government says that most homes will have a smart meter by 2020.

About the Author

Energy Company NumbersView all posts by Energy Company Numbers
Energy Company Numbers is a telephone number directory service dedicated to helping UK consumers keep in touch with their energy suppliers.

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