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Electric and Gas Smart Meters: Are they any good? The pros and cons

As more of us are looking for energy-saving solutions, smart meters are growing in popularity but are they as great as we’re told?

We’ve looked at all the smart meter services on offer, and the energy suppliers that are offering them and found out everything you need to know before deciding whether to have one installed or not. Look through our guide to get the low down.

Smart Meters – What Are They?

Smart meters are the latest type of gas and electricity meters that are being installed all over the country. Each energy supplier is working to offer these smart meters to their customers at zero cost because they offer a simpler, more effective way to log your usage. The main benefits on offer with a smart meter include:

  • Accurate Billing if you get tired of having your bill estimated then a smart meter will impress as it takes away the need to estimate any usage. Each meter is designed to send readings at specific intervals of your choice, ensuring that you are accurately billed for everything you use.
  • Easy to Read no one enjoys emptying cupboards or going out in the cold to read a meter, but smart meters are designed to save this hassle by offering automatic, easy-to-access readings that are displayed on your smart meter display unit.
  • Access to Analytics as well as offering information about your meter readings, the home display will also show you how much you have spent as well as your usage units. You can also set budgets and goals to help you understand when you have used more or less than you wanted, giving you control over your bills with no nasty surprises.

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Why Are Smart Meters Being Provided in the UK?

The UK Government agreed to upgrade the UK energy system, making it a smart grid to help consumers understand their usage and learn how to become more energy efficient. As part of this commitment, smart meters are being rolled out to give us the information we need to use energy in the most effective way and to help the smart grid understand where the peaks and troughs are so that they can respond accordingly and avoid blackouts.

Each energy company has been given a target of smart meters to install across their client base. Interestingly, there are significant fines being issued to companies that do not fulfill their quota, resulting in many companies pushing smart meters on customers whenever possible, supported by a huge media and correspondence campaign.

Can I Be Forced to Install a Smart Meter?

No! The decision to have a smart meter installed or not is one that is completely up to you, no matter how hard your energy company tries. Many consumers are led to believe that a smart meter is a mandatory requirement, but this is not true, it’s completely your choice. It’s also important to note that even if you say no now, you can change your mind in the future and have one installed, all you have to do is ask your energy supplier to organise this for you.

As energy prices have soared, energy suppliers are no longer offering cheaper deals to smart meter owners, but this may come back in the future should energy prices dip again.

Are Smart Meters Just for Pay Monthly Customers?

No, they are for all customers, including prepaid ones. When the smart meter is installed, the engineer will set it up as either a prepaid or monthly account to ensure that your energy supply works in the best way for you.

Prepayment customers can use their new smart meters to top up automatically rather than heading to the shop every time you need more energy. You can also look forward to seeing your exact balance on your smart meter home display, helping you to budget. Finally, if you decide to switch to a credit tariff in the future, you won’t need to have a new meter installed.

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The Types of Smart Meters Available

There are nearly 30 million smart meters now installed in the UK, with nearly half of them being SMETS 2 meters, nearly 10 million being upgraded SMETS 1 and the rest being original SMETS 1 meters. SMETS stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications. Not sure what is different about SMETS 1 to SMETS 2? Look below to find out:

  • SMETS 1 these were the original smart meters and work with the 3G network to send data back and forth. If you swap energy suppliers then a SMETS 1 meter will be unable to communicate with the new supplier, reducing the functions that you can use. However, there is a rolling cycle of upgrades going on to provide consumers with the ability to switch suppliers and keep their meter smart.
  • SMETS 2 these are the second-generation of smart meters that are now being used for all smart meter installations across the country. Each meter has its own central data network that allows any supplier to access your meter when you switch to them and show your new and updated tariff.

How Can I Upgrade My SMETS 1 Meter?

If you have an older SMETS 1 meter, then there is a programme of remote upgrades going on now. It is being run by the Data Communications Company (DCC) which is working its way through the list of SMETS 1 owners. There is no specific upgrade deadline for them to hit, but they have already upgraded nearly 10 million. If you are worried that you may not know when your meter has been upgraded, then you don’t need to as your supplier will keep you informed.

In rare cases, remote upgrading may not be possible, but this doesn’t mean that you need to stick with the SMETS 1. Your energy supplier will arrange a new SMETS 2 installation visit for you so that you can enjoy the new capabilities without worrying about switching in the future.

Smart Meters – How Do I Know If I Can Have One?

While smart meters are being actively rolled out across the Uk, there are some customers that may not be able to access them. If you live in Northern Ireland, there are currently no smart meter roll outs planned at all and you can only get on in mainland Britain if you are with a supplier that is installing them in your local area.

There have been nearly 30 million installed to date, but the rollout has until 2025 to be completed, with many experts thinking that this date may be pushed back further because of the pandemic and the UK economy. If you are keen to find out whether you can get a smart meter in your area, look at your supplier’s smart meter page here:

Commonly Asked Questions About Smart Meter Eligibility

If you still have questions about whether you can get a smart meter for your property or not, we have the answers you need – take a look below:

  • Can I Use Solar Panels with a Smart Meter? Yes – smart meters are compatible with solar panels and are an essential part of the Smart Export Guarantee in which you can make money back for any electricity that you don’t use.
  • Does a Smart Meter With Economy 10 and Economy 7 Systems? Both E10 and E7 are specific tariffs that offer different electricity prices depending on the time of day and so you will need a smart meter that can show the two rates when they are in use – a capability that not all suppliers can offer yet. If you are on one of these tariffs, then it is wise to speak to your supplier to find out if they can help.
  • I Have a Communal Meter Box, Can I Have a Smart Meter? Probably. If you have a meter that is located away from your property in a communal space, then you should able to get a smart meter without any problems.
  • Does My Landlord Need to Arrange a Smart Meter Installation? No, if you are the named bill payer then you can arrange a smart meter installation visit to your rented property. However, you should always discuss this with your landlord as your tenancy agreement will have an energy section that may need to be updated.

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Switching Suppliers with Your Smart Meter

If you are worried about getting a smart meter with one company because you want to retain the ability to switch in the future, then you don’t need to worry. All SMETS 2 meters are designed with a central network which allows all suppliers to access the data without having to replace your meter or causing your in-home display to go dumb. However, if you have a SMETS 1 meter then this will need to undergo a remote upgrade first, or even a full meter replacement in very rare situations.

It’s important to note that switching suppliers is not a great idea now due to the ongoing energy crisis, but as the landscape changes, you may want to start shopping around for new suppliers who can offer you the best tariff for your smart meter supply.

What Happens If My Meter Goes Dumb After Switching?

Many people worry about their smart meter going dumb, especially because it is not possible to tell a SMETS 1 apart from a SMETS 2. However, if your smart meter was installed after the summer 2019 then you are likely to have a SMETS 2 and this won’t go dumb on switching.

If you have a SMETS 1, then when you switch your meter will be unable to communicate with your new supplier and go dumb. This doesn’t mean that it won’t measure your usage accurately, just that it won’t be able to transmit your data to your new supplier, leaving you responsible for uploading readings until it can be upgraded.

How Long Does the Switch Take To Show On My Smart Meter?

If you have a SMETS 1 meter that has not been upgraded, you will need to wait for the DCC to remotely upgrade your unit before it will work as a smart device again. As there is no deadline requirement for these upgrades, getting an estimated timescale for your meter is virtually impossible, meaning that you will have to just wait for confirmation that it has been done.

If you have an upgraded SMETS 1 or a SMETS 2 meter, your new supplier should be able to access it immediately on the day of your switch and will update all the pricing data so that you can enjoy a seamless transition.

Can I Get a Free Smart Meter?

The great thing about the smart meter rollout is that they are all free to customers, meaning that you won’t need to pay anything to have one installed in your property. To get your hands on your new smart meter you can try one or more of the following tips:

  • Wait until your supplier offers you an appointment as they work through the areas and customers they have.
  • Contact your supplier to request an installation, which can often be done via an online contact form. Many suppliers also have online booking, allowing you to choose the appointment that best suits your needs.
  • Register your interest with your supplier so that when they are available in your area, you will be towards the top of the list.

For more bespoke advice on eligibility with specific suppliers, check out the table below:

SupplierHow to Get a Smart MeterYou Won’t Get One If…
SSEComplete online form or call to requestYou have poor signal in your area
EDFLogin to your account and pick a date within the next monthYou have poor signal in your are
Shell EnergyComplete online form, call or email your request for a date within 14 daysYou have poor signal in your area, or you have Economy 7
British GasRequest online and get an installation within 14 daysYou have poor signal in your area or you have Economy 7
OvoComplete online form or call to requestYou have poor signal in your area
Scottish PowerRequest online and get an installation within 14 daysYou have poor signal in your area or you have Economy 7
E.onRequest online and get an installation within 28 daysYou have poor signal in your area

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Frequently Asked Questions About Smart Meters

Still interested in getting a smart meter but have questions that you need to be answered? We’ve shared the most asked questions below so that you can find the information you need to make the right decision for you – take a look now:

What Happens on Installation Day?

After arranging your installation, you will need to wait until installation day for your new smart meters to arrive. On the day, your engineer should provide you with a specific time slot and will need you to have cleared the area around the meters for them to be able to get easy access. The visit will last up to two hours and your energy supply will need to be switched off while the installer works.

Once the installation is complete, the engineer will take you through how to access the readings and then install your home display, showing you how to work it and set up budgets. The engineer may also provide you with safety advice and energy advice, but they will not attempt to sell you any other products or services – if they do, you should report this to the supplier or even consider a complaint if you were made to feel pressured or intimidated.

Can I Choose Where My Smart Meter is Installed?

In most cases, the new smart meters will be installed in place of the meters that are being removed – offering the least fuss and bother to you. However, in some cases the engineer will need to move the location of the smart meter to be complete the installation – this work will be free of charge and completed only with your agreement. If you want to move the location of the meters for aesthetic purposes, then this may be possible, but you may need to pay a fee for this to happen – your energy supplier will be able to confirm prices on request.

Do I Have to Submit My Meter Readings with a Smart Meter?

No, once your meter is installed and set up, it will then start to send your readings automatically on your behalf. You can choose from monthly, daily, or half-hourly readings, helping you to get an accurate picture of your expenditure and usage. Remember, if you change suppliers and have a SMETS 1, you may need to start sending readings until your meter gets upgraded.

Do I Need Internet in My Home for the New Smart Meter?

If you do not have a home internet connection, then this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a smart meter. Each smart meter is designed to work with mobile phone signal towers, allowing them to send and receive the data they need without having to be linked to your internet service. You can opt to have a WiFi-enabled home display if your energy supplier offers you one, but this is optional and will not have a negative effect on your smart meter installation if you choose not to.

My Gas and Electricity Are Supplied By Different Companies – What Should I Do?

Occasionally, people have separate suppliers for gas and electricity, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a smart meter installed for both. To get your smart meters you should contact each supplier to arrange a meter for each energy supply. The first installer will set up your home display and your new meter, and the second installation will put your new meter in and then update your home display with their information so that you can see both supplies from one display. The only big difference for you is that you will need to arrange two different installations rather than having them both completed at the same time.

If I Move, Should I Take My Smart Meter and Display with Me?

No. Smart meters, like traditional meters, are fixed to the property they are installed in and must be left there when you move to a new address. Additionally, the home display that you use to measure your usage should also be left in the property as it will only be able to work alongside the meter it was paired with, rendering it useless in your new house.

I’ve Moved to a Property with Smart Meters – What Do I Do?

When you move house, you should always take final meter readings for your old supplier and opening readings for the new supply at your new home. If you are moving into a property with a smart meter you will need to contact the current supplier to let them know you have moved in so that they can open an account for you. If you cannot find a smart display for your usage, ask your new supplier to organise this for you. Remember, if the meter has gone ‘dumb’, you will need to supply readings to the supplier directly until your meter gets upgraded.

How Do I Replace a Faulty Home Meter Display?

If you have a smart meter display in your home and it breaks, then you will need to request a new one from your energy supplier. If it is within 12 months of installation then it should be replaced free of charge but if you’ve had it longer than a year, you may be expected to pay for a replacement. When your new display arrives, simply plug it in and follow the instructions to set it up.

Do I Have to Have a Smart Thermostat with My Smart Meter?

No – they are two totally separate pieces of smart technology. Smart meters are installed by your energy company free of charge and come with a home display for you to monitor your usage. Smart thermostats provide you with the ability to manage the heating inside your home from an app when you are at home or away from your property. Smart thermostats must be installed by an appropriately qualified electrician and will cost up to £250 for the unit and installation.

Final Thoughts – Getting a Smart Meter

We’ve already said this once, but it is important enough to repeat – smart meters are not compulsory, and no energy supplier can make you install one. There have been some customers that have reported pressure being put on them to have a meter installed and even energy suppliers who have sent letters to customers telling them that their old meters will be condemned if they are not replaced.

The reality of the situation is that all energy suppliers who offer smart meters are required to offer one to all households that do not have one yet – however, you can refuse and change your mind later if you want to. Before the UK energy crisis, some suppliers were offering cheaper tariffs to smart meter owners, but these need to be properly advertised so that you know what you are agreeing to, so watch out for this in the future.

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