There has been a lot of publicity recently about the benefits of upgrading your gas and electricity meters to ‘smart meters.’ Millions of homes have already been converted to the new technology and it is estimated that by 2020 up to 50 million homes will have a smart meter installed.[i]
But what are smart meters and what are the benefits of upgrading your traditional meters? We have put together a handy guide to give you an idea of what it all means.
What are smart meters?
Smart meters – often referred to as the ‘next generation’ of gas and electricity meter – bring traditional, outmoded meters up-to-date with the digital age. They make it much easier to manage your energy as you can see exactly how much energy you're using.
What are the benefits of smart meters?
Smart meters send your energy readings directly to the supplier, meaning that energy bills will be much more accurate. You will no longer need to send meter readings to your energy supplier, so gone are the days of estimated bills and large lump sum payments once you do provide them with readings.
Most smart meters will also be packaged with a small in-home digital display, usually around the size of a smartphone. They can be placed anywhere in the home and show you in real-time how much energy you’re consuming, giving you more control than ever over your energy usage.
In addition, many major energy suppliers already have smartphone apps available, which are integrated with the new smart meters. It means that you can manage your energy account and monitor your usage directly from your smartphone.
How do I get a smart meter?
The availability of smart meters will depend on your energy supplier. Some are already fitting smart meters, while others are still in an earlier stage of the rollout. Your energy supplier will likely contact you when they are ready to install smart meters in your home but you can always get in touch with them beforehand to enquire.
If you’re not sure who supplies the energy to your home, the Energy Networks Association website has advice on how to find out.
Once your supplier is ready to install smart meters in your area, they will arrange an appointment for an engineer to visit your home. The engineer will remove the existing meters and install the brand new smart meters in their place.
Do I still need separate meters for gas and electricity?
Yes, your energy supplier will replace your gas and electricity meters with two separate smart meters.
If your gas and electricity are provided by different suppliers, you will need to contact them individually to arrange installation of each. Even in these cases, you should be able to monitor your usage through one in-home display; it is the responsibility of the energy providers to ensure the meters are fully integrated at the point of installation.
Can I still upgrade to smart meters if I’m currently on prepaid meters?
Smart meters can replace prepaid meters, but again, it’s worth contacting your energy supplier to learn more about their rollout plans. Users of prepaid meters may in fact get the biggest benefit from smart meters, due to the ability to monitor energy consumption in real-time and see how much credit is remaining on the meter.
Smart meters can be topped up through smartphone apps, by text or over the phone. Topping up at a shop will also be easier as you will no longer have to insert a card back into the meter; the credit will instead automatically be added to the account. This is especially useful if your meter is in a hard-to-reach place. No more crawling into the cupboard under the stairs with a torch to top it up!
How much will it cost to upgrade to smart meters?
There is no upfront cost to upgrade to smart meters. Instead, you may see a slight increase in your energy bills as the cost is accounted for over a period of time. Currently, energy suppliers are adding around £6 per year to energy bills (around 50p per month) to cover the cost of rolling out smart meters.[ii]
The in-home display will cost around £1 per year in electricity to run,[iii] although you are under no obligation to use it at all; it is for your convenience only.
How much money will I save with a smart meter?
As far as immediate energy costs go, there will be no change to how much you’re paying for your gas and electricity (apart from the small incremental cost described above).
Smart meters are instead designed to ensure that consumers are receiving more accurate bills and to make it easier to determine when and how households are using the most energy. In future, energy suppliers will be able to offer tailored tariffs to customers based on the energy readings provided by the smart meters.
Once you have a smart meter installed, you may become much more aware of how much energy you’re using. With that in mind, we’ve offered a few suggestions on easy ways to save energy around the home.
Simple Energy-Saving Tips for Around the Home
Switch to LED lightbulbs
We say it a lot at Lightbulbs Direct, but it really is worth switching to LED lightbulbs. Not only do they use less energy than traditional lightbulbs (even energy saving CFL bulbs), they will last many more years before needing to be replaced.
We tested the potential savings you could make if you were to switch just one bulb from a traditional 60W bulb to an equivalent 12W LED bulb and found that over the lifetime of the bulb, you would save £131.42! Multiply that by ten bulbs around the home and there are big savings to be made. Find out more about the test here and read more about LED bulbs here.
Use your in-home device
When you do get smart meters installed, make sure to use the in-home device that your energy supplier provides. You may be surprised at how easy it is to save money by following a few simple rules, such as switching lights and devices off when they’re not needed. If the kids are constantly leaving the lights on, you could always use motion-sensitive lights to help save some energy.
Plug the gaps
Gaps in floorboards, walls and window frames can affect how much energy you consume, especially when you’re heating your home in the winter. Have a look around your house to see if there are any gaps that can be filled. Use wood sealant to plug holes in floorboards and silicone sealant around window frames to help keep draughts out. There are also a wide variety of draught excluders and draught seals available to help keep pesky cold air from slipping in under your door.
Switch energy suppliers
If you’ve done all you can around the home to save energy, it may make sense to switch energy suppliers. The process has become a lot simpler over recent years thanks to the proliferation of price comparison websites that make it easy to see where the best deals are.
Don’t worry if your energy supplier has recently fitted smart meters in your home. There is regulation in place that means you have no obligation to stick with your energy provider if they have. However, it may make the process of switching a little more complicated.
The meters may lose certain functionality or may need to be replaced once you’ve switched to the new supplier. In these instances, your smart meters would continue to function as traditional meters, which would mean that you would need to provide your energy supplier with meter readings.
It’s always worth calling any potential supplier before switching, to understand exactly what the switchover to them would entail.
For more in-depth information on smart meters, visit the Smart Energy GB website, or contact your energy supplier for advice.