There has been plenty of discussion concerning smart meters in the last few years. All of the big home energy providers are offering these standalone devices to help people manage their electricity and gas bills. Therefore, on paper, it certainly sounds like a good idea. The government has required energy companies to, by law, offer these systems to homes as standard.
Is it worth installing a smart meter? The short answer is that they are great for helping you to monitor your bills and your usage, but they’re not always essential. What’s more, some of the technology used may not actually provide you with the service you expect. The bottom line is, while smart meters can help you to budget for energy bills, there may actually be cheaper ways to power your home.
Let’s expand on this issue by getting right down to basics. How exactly do smart meters work, and what are some of the positives and negatives you should be aware of?
How Do Smart Meters Work?
The purpose of a smart meter is to remove the need for meter readings altogether. It’s a very efficient concept and one which works well for millions of people. As mentioned, all big energy providers are offering these devices to homes. However, it makes sense that you should know how they work before you take one on for yourself.
You can upgrade to a smart meter at any time, which means that you will need to arrange for an installer to make the necessary switchover. Once your smart meter is in place, you’ll also receive a monitor or display, which will communicate with your meter through a midway hub. This is all connected through mobile data, 3G at the least, at the time of writing.
Therefore, theoretically, your meter will tell your display unit how much energy or power you have used at any given time. This, in principle, will let you keep an easier check on what you’re using, and when to cut back. There is definitely a positive to be found in the fact that these systems help to translate meter jargon into plain currency.
That’s why, on paper, smart meters work great. But let’s take a closer look at what we can expect from them in practice.
Will a Smart Meter Reduce My Bills?
A smart meter will reduce your bills, providing you keep track of your display unit. A smart meter, sadly, will not implement any blocks on the energy you receive, nor will it force you to take up better habits. What it will do, however, is give you clearer information from the energy you are using. While you may previously have been checking random numbers on your electricity and gas meters, a smart unit will tell you what you’ve run up in your current quarter or billing period.
A smart meter will help to reduce your bills if you choose to keep track of it. In order for this service to be worth your while, you are going to need to show willing and to monitor your expenditure. This, at least, may help some people get into better financial shape. It may even help you to understand which appliances and services in your home are driving up costs the most. It is certainly a great idea for educational purposes.
However, it is not a miracle cure for high bills. I’ll get into this in a bit more detail shortly, but keep in mind that you will still need to exercise some self-control when it comes to running up charges. Energy suppliers are offering smart meters by way of showing some form of responsibility for their fees – by giving everyday users a little more control over what they are using. It’s a great idea, but will it benefit absolutely everybody?
What are the Benefits of Having a Smart Meter?
Before I break this down even further, here are the major benefits of owning a smart meter:
- You get a clear, accurate depiction of how much energy you have used.
- A smart meter will help you to budget for specific energy use and will help you to understand where charges are coming from.
- A smart meter will also put you in full control of your bills. While you would previously have needed a representative to read your meter data, you can now do so yourself.
- Providing your display unit, hub and smart meter are all communicating correctly, you can keep track of everything you are using, day or night.
- You can still use a smart meter if you change supplier, though at some cost of functionality.
- You’ll be able to diagnose power issues in your home – though this may vary from meter to meter.
Ultimately, smart meters are a great idea if you want to retain control over your spending – but you don’t want to go to prepay. Technically, you could go prepay and smart – but I’ll get to that a little later on.
What are the Downsides of Having a Smart Meter?
For all a smart meter may sound great in principle, there are some downsides to keep in mind before you adopt one for yourself.
- A smart meter is not a replacement for keeping vigilant about energy usage. You will still need to keep a close eye on what you are using.
- Your meter and display setups are dependent on connection through data signal. With many systems available running through 3G, this connectivity is quickly becoming outdated.
- A smart meter will not prevent you from getting high bills. Your power bills are still going to be high if you are on the wrong tariff. Therefore, you will still need to be cautious with the tariff you are registered to, and if it is not working for you, you should look at more cost-effective solutions.
- If you choose to switch supplier, your existing smart meter may not be completely compatible with your new setup. While you will still be able to use your meter on a basic level, monitoring technology will likely not carry over. This means you may have to completely reinstall your smart meter and get a new hub and display.
- Smart meters are still being rolled out. This means that not everywhere in the country has access to them yet.
Smart meters are there to help us. However, some of the technology being used may be a little outdated. It is perhaps worth waiting to see if this technology evolves over time, and if energy suppliers are willing to make the changes.
Is It Compulsory To Have a Smart Meter Installed?
No. The government has mandated that energy suppliers at least offer some form of smart meter to customers, but you are never obliged to accept one. As explored above, there may be some circumstances where you may not even want or need one. If it’s an idea that appeals to you, and if you feel you could benefit from keeping closer tabs on your usage, then you should ask your supplier for more details. There are no indications that energy suppliers will force customers to adopt smart meters at this time.
Can I Refuse to Have a Smart Meter?
Yes. While some energy suppliers will encourage people to use smart meters, you don’t have to oblige. In some cases, it may be in your best interests to have one installed, as it may result in lower bills for you moving forward. However, an energy company is certainly never going to force you to go smart. Time will tell if this technology is rolled out as the default, however. Until that happens, there may need to be some technical tweaking, and upgrades performed to the data service.
Can Smart Meters Be Hacked?
Yes, but double-check with your supplier. Technically, smart meters can be hacked and could even be used to cause hazardous situations. This is why meters provided by energy suppliers need to be built with protection in place against backdoor hacking. It is very unlikely that a leading energy firm will willingly supply meters to customers which can be easily intercepted. At the time of writing, there are no current scandals to suggest this is the case, or that anything untoward is going on.
However, exercise your gut instinct. It is always a good idea to question any technology which is being installed in your home. Make sure to get written assurance from your supplier, or at least be ready to undertake further research. If you are not comfortable with setting up a smart meter as a result, you can refuse to have one put in place – simple.
Can I Get a Smart Meter in My Area?
While the idea of smart meters has been around for a while, not all regions of the UK have access to the technology yet. That’s because energy suppliers are taking time to roll out the devices and units one area at a time. Most city areas should be covered, but some of the more rural stretches of the UK will likely be going without for the time being. However, the intention is clear – thanks to UK law, energy suppliers must be in a position to offer all customers a smart meter. Therefore, work is continuing to try and bring this technology to the masses sooner rather than later.
If you’re interested in taking on a smart meter but aren’t sure whether or not your area is covered, always ask your supplier. In some cases, you will be able to visit their website, enter in your postcode, and see if your town or region is next on the deployment list. If not, you may be able to find out when. Remember, it’s not a matter of if, but when – we will all have access to this technology in the near future.
Can I Get a Prepay Smart Meter?
In theory, yes. Prepay meters have been the best way for people to manage and monitor their energy use for decades. You simply need to make sure that your ‘energy stick’ is topped up with enough money to run the services you need. These can normally be easily topped up at a local newsagent or supermarket. But what about prepay smart meters?
The fact is, while smart prepay systems exist, they may not be available from all suppliers. This means you will need to consult with your supplier as to whether or not this is an option. If it isn’t, you may simply have to choose one or the other – a prepay meter, or a smart meter? Both will help you manage your energy spend, but neither will work miracles. Again, you’ll still need to make sure you’re on the best tariff for your usage.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line on smart meters is simple. They are a great idea for people who want to be able to read their meters easier, and for people who want to take greater control of what they are spending on gas and electricity. However, they will still need you to take action when it comes to monitoring your usage.
In addition to this, smart meters won’t stop you from running up high bills if you’re on an expensive or default tariff. Check with your supplier that you are on the best value tariff available based on your usage. Some suppliers will switch you to their default option, which can be expensive if you fail to choose a new tariff by a specific deadline. Therefore, it really does pay to be proactive.
Ultimately, smart meters are here to make sure you understand what you’re paying for. They can help you work out what’s driving up costs, and will also spur you on to consider changing tariffs, or even suppliers. With that all in mind, I don’t see a smart meter to be that much of a detriment. However, whether or not they are actually necessary is up for debate.