Smart meters: How consumers can control their energy usage

The government’s smart meter programme is continuing to roll with almost five million new meters now operating in the UK.

But there’s a long way to go as there are more than 26 million homes for energy suppliers to get to, with the goal of every home having a smart meter by 2020.

Raja Khan, commercial direct at Inteb Managed Services, explained: “Smart meters put consumers in control of their energy use, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on energy bills and offset price increases.

“They are the next generation of gas and electricity meters and offer a range of intelligent functions. For example, they can show how much energy is being used through an in-home display and they communicate directly with the energy supplier, meaning there will be an end to visits by meter readers to your premises.”

However, smart meters aren’t compulsory and people can choose not to have one. This means the national roll-out won’t just happen automatically and consumers need to have as much information about them as possible before making any decision.

Here are some answers to important questions about smart meters.

Are smart meters compulsory?

Smart meters are not compulsory; it’s entirely your choice. The government requires energy suppliers to offer smart meters to all homes and small businesses across Great Britain by 2020, but whether you accept them is completely up to you. More than four in five people who have a smart meter say they would recommend one.

What exactly are smart meters? Smart meters are the new generation of gas and electricity meters. They are being installed across the country, at no extra cost, to replace the traditional meters – including pre-pay key meters. They will give consumers more control over energy use and help them to understand bills and the energy system.

What do smart meters do?

A smart meter sends automatic meter readings directly to the energy supplier, resulting in accurate bills, an end to estimates and manual meter readings. The in-home display is a portable device which shows how much energy is being used and what it’s costing in pounds and pence, in near real time. Both smart meter and display will be installed by the energy supplier at no extra cost.

How do smart meters work?

The smart meter measures how much gas and electricity being used and shares this directly and securely with the energy supplier and the in-home display, using wireless technology. You won’t have to take any meter readings manually – the smart meter will send automatic readings to the energy supplier via a secure national network which is solely for smart meters. This works in the same way as other wireless systems like car remote keys or TVs, using radio waves. Though it is a wireless system, you don’t need Wi-Fi for it to work and the meter won’t use your Wi-Fi if you do have it.

How accurate are smart meters?

Smart meters are as accurate as traditional meters. By law, all smart meters have to be certified by the National Measurement Office to prove their accuracy but if you do think there’s a fault, it can be reported to the Energy Ombudsman.

Is a broadband connection necessary to use a smart meter? No – smart meters use an entirely separate, bespoke wireless system.

Who can access my smart meter data and how is it used? Only the supplier, and they won’t share any of it without permission. The meter will keep your data secure. Depending on how often you agree to share it with your supplier, the smart meter will send half-hourly, daily or monthly meter readings. You can change your preference for how often you share this information at any point by getting in contact with your supplier directly. The energy supplier may also use this information to provide tailored energy efficiency advice and improve the service they provide for you.

How can a smart meter save money?

Using the information shown on the in-home display should be able to help cut energy costs. Smart meters also mean accurate bills, consumers only paying for what has actually been used rather than overpaying, as sometimes happens with estimates.

Can a smart meter help with energy efficiency?

Smart meters make it easier to identify situations where a lot of energy is being used and where consumers might want to make changes to reduce it. They are also a crucial step towards the development of the smart grid, a new way of running our energy network. Energy suppliers will be better equipped to plan and manage the country’s electricity and gas and match supply and demand. Also, smart appliances will be able to interact with smart meter systems to help save energy – for example, setting the dishwasher to come on when electricity is cheapest or by getting a text message if the heating has been left on on by mistake.