Smart meters: a guide
- Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
- Part of:
- Household energy, Energy prices and bills, and Energy efficiency
- First published:
- 22 January 2013
- Last updated:
- 8 October 2013, see all updates
Smart meters put consumers in control of their energy use, allowing them to adopt energy efficiency measures that can help save money on their energy bills and offset price increases.
The new meters
Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters and offer a range of intelligent functions.
For example, they can tell you how much energy you are using through a display in your home. They can also communicate directly with your energy supplier meaning that no one will need to come and read your meter in future.
Most of the smart meters that are being installed today use mobile phone-type signals to send meter readings to your supplier, and other wireless technologies to send information to the in-home display.
Benefits of smart meters
Smart meters bring a wide range of benefits. For example:
- smart meters give you near real time information on energy use - expressed in pounds and pence
- you will be able to better manage your energy use, save money and reduce emissions
- smart meters will bring an end to estimated billing - you will only be billed for the energy you actually use, helping you budget better
- easier switching - smoother and faster to switch suppliers to get the best deals
You will not be charged separately for a smart meter or for the in-home display. Under current arrangements you pay for the cost of your meter and its maintenance through your energy bills, and this will be the same for smart meters.
Benefits for Prepayment customers
Smart meters can work in prepayment or credit mode. Prepayment customers will see some particular benefits from having a smart meter. For example:
- your energy supplier may be able to offer you new and more flexible ways of topping up your meter that don’t require you to visit a shop
- you’ll be able to see your balance on your easy-to-access in home display, so you don’t unknowingly run out of credit
- your smart meter can be set to top up automatically, so that if you do run out of credit at night or when the shops are shut you won’t be left without power
Further information on the benefits of smart meters, what they are and how they work, is available on the Smart Energy GB website
Supplier led roll-out
The government is requiring energy companies to install smart meters for their customers, and has set out rules to ensure that they do this in a way that is in the interests of consumers, including rules around:
- data access and privacy
- technical standards for the smart metering equipment
- meeting the needs of vulnerable consumers
Smart meters will be rolled out as standard across the country by the end of 2020. But there is no legal obligation on individuals to have one.
The government has ensured that appropriate consumer protection provisions have been put in place:
- there will be no sales during the installation visit
- installers must provide energy efficiency advice as part of the visit. They will need the consumer’s permission in advance of the visit if they are to talk to them about their own products
These provisions are outlined in the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice.
You will have a choice about how your energy consumption data is used, apart from where it is required for billing and other regulated purposes.
You will be able to see your real-time energy consumption data on your in-home display. You will also be able to download more detailed historic data from your home network, should you wish to.
Your energy company, and the energy networks, can access appropriate data to enable them to send you accurate bills and carry out other essential tasks.
Suppliers will have to get your consent to access half-hourly data, or to use data for marketing purposes. They can access daily data unless you object.
You will also be able to share data with third parties (such as switching sites) if you want them to give you advice on the best tariff for you.
The Data guide for Smart Meters published by Energy UK outlines the key information customers need to know about their rights and choices when they get a smart meter installed.
Smart meters will ultimately make switching suppliers easier and quicker. It is important that smart metering devices work together (even if from different providers) and also that consumers can still use the meter on change of supplier. However, meters installed during the Foundation stage may lose some smart functionality depending on which energy supplier you switch to. This will be resolved for the vast majority of meters installed during the main rollout as more energy suppliers begin installing smart meters.
In most cases, if you switch during the Foundation stage the meter can still be used in ‘traditional’ mode if the new energy supplier cannot support the smart functionality at the stage of switching suppliers. The In Home Display (IHD) issued alongside the smart meter should still continue to operate and show you near real time information about your energy consumption.
Ofgem has introduced rules designed to help domestic consumers understand if the smart services they are receiving will be maintained when they switch supplier. The rules include a requirement that a supplier installing a smart meter must inform the customer that they may lose meter functionality on change of supplier.
Smart meters are covered by UK and EU product safety legislation, which requires manufacturers to ensure that any product placed on the market is safe. Public Health England (formerly The Health Protection Agency) provides advice and information on the health implications of smart meters, as it does for a range of technologies commonly found in homes and businesses across the UK.
Public Health England has advised that the evidence suggests that exposures to the radio waves produced by smart meters do not pose a risk to health. Further information about smart meters and health.
Timeframes for installation
Most households will have smart meters installed by their energy company between 2016 and 2020, although some energy companies are starting to install smart meters now. If you are interested in getting a smart meter now, shop around and contact different energy companies to see what their plans are. A selection of links to some suppliers’ smart meter pages can be found on the Smart Energy GB website.
Contact your energy supplier or see:
Published: 22 January 2013
Updated: 8 October 2013
- The guide has been updated to provide a link to the new leaflet on the Smart Metering System.
- First published.