What is a smart meter?

It is a device that measures how much gas and electricity you use and how much it costs.

They are fitted to your home and can be used whether you pay by direct debit or by prepayment meter.

What are the pros and cons?

The pros and cons of getting a smart meter are:

  • Accurate bills

  • Easy to track your energy usage

  • You could save with variable tariffs

  • Power cuts resolved faster

  • Energy payments could change

  • Data may be used for targeted ads

  • Rates may be higher at peak times

  • Reliant on mobile signal

How do they work?

Smart meters tell you how much gas and electricity you have used, and send readings to your energy supplier each month if you pay by direct debit.

They are designed to replace current gas and electricity meters which use out of date technology, and have to be read manually. They should also end the need for estimated bills.

Smart meters are made up of three essential bits of equipment:

  1. 1.

    A smart meter to replace your current meter

  2. 2.

    A portable display unit for your home

  3. 3.

    A communication hub to send readings wirelessly to your display unit or supplier

Gas readings can be sent to your display unit every half hour, and electricity readings can be sent every 10 seconds.

You can choose how often readings are sent to your supplier. The more regularly you send meter readings, the more accurate your bill will be.

How do you read it?

Your gas and electricity readings are sent to your portable display unit, which shows you:

  • How much energy you are currently using

  • How much energy you have used in the last hour, week, and month

  • How much your energy usage costs

  • Whether your energy usage is low, medium or high

If you use a prepaid gas or electricity smart meter, it can also show you:

  • How much credit you have left

  • How much you have left on your emergency credit balance

  • Your debt balance, if you have one

  • An alert if your credit is running low

Your smart meter display unit may look different depending on which supplier you use, but the information displayed will be the same regardless of your supplier.

Find out how to read your smart meter on the Smart Energy GB website.

When can you get one?

Energy companies plan to start installing smart meters across the UK from August 2016, but you can request to have yours fitted sooner at no extra cost.

You just need to:

  1. Contact your energy supplier

  2. Ask if a smart meter can be fitted at your home

  3. Arrange a date for installation

  4. Be at home for the engineer to fit the meter

If you decide to switch to a supplier who is not using smart technology after your meter is installed, you may have to upgrade your meter again at a later date.

Will you save money?

Yes, but only if you use your smart meter to monitor and reduce your energy usage.

The cost of installing smart meters nationwide may increase energy prices, but you remove the cost of meter readings and also get access cheaper tariffs.

Read our guide to saving money on your gas and electricity for more information on cutting the cost of your energy bill.

Can you still switch supplier?

Yes, Ofgem regulations state that you can still switch supplier. Energy companies cannot use your data to prevent you from switching to a better deal.

If you switch to an energy supplier that is yet to use smart technology, you may lose your smart meter's functionality temporarily and have to give your readings manually.

However, this will only be until the supplier has upgraded their technology and you will still benefit from monitoring your current energy usage.

Should you get one?

If you want to save money on your energy bills, a smart meter can help you monitor and reduce your usage. It can also give you access to cheaper energy tariffs.

Energy companies are planning to fit every home in the UK with a smart meter by 2020, but the scheme is voluntary and you can refuse the new meter if you do not want it.

GOV.UK has more information about the rollout of smart meters in the UK, including your rights and timescales for the nationwide rollout.