How can a smart meter help you save energy? Are there any risks? Will smart meters affect Feed-in Tariffs (FIT)? We explain how to make the most of your smart meter.
Smart meters and accompanying in-home displays will help you keep track of the energy you use in your home, and will cut out the need for meter readings. Smart meters help save energy, and make meter readings automatic. The plan is for everyone in the UK to have a smart meter in their home by the end of 2019...
Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters. They collect information about energy use in the home electronically without the need for you or your energy supplier to take meter readings. They measure energy use in the same way as a traditional gas or electricity meter, but also have a communication capability that allows data to be read remotely and displayed on a device inside your home, or transmitted securely externally. Smart meters can also receive information remotely from your energy supplier, such as updates on tariff information.
An in-home display (IHD) unit will also be provided along with smart meters as part of the programme. This device will be the most visible part of the smart metering system and provide up-to-date real-time information on how much gas and electricity you’ve used in pounds and pence, as well as units of energy. The display will also present historical information on consumption so that you can compare your current and past use.
In the future smart meters will be an important part of smart grids, planned to help manage supply and demand across the electricity system and allow the maximum use of low-carbon technologies.
The government recognises that consumers cannot take informed action to reduce their domestic energy consumption (and therefore their bills and their carbon dioxide emissions) unless they have accurate and timely information. The government also recognises the need to improve the efficiency of the energy network.
Energy suppliers will be responsible for engaging with their customers to install smart meters in their homes. But the government has stated that as a minimum, every display will need:
- current and historical electricity and gas consumption
- usage in pounds and pence as well as kilowatts and kilowatt hours
- ambient feedback that allows consumers to easily distinguish between high and low levels of current consumption
- account balances.
The UK government has decided that every home in England, Wales and Scotland should be offered smart meters by 2019; and in Northern Ireland by 2020. Around 27 million homes (plus smaller non-domestic premises) will be offered the chance to be fitted with smart gas and electricity meters over the next seven years. The government has recently given assurance that it will be voluntary rather than compulsory for households to have a smart meter fitted, so if you have concerns, you will be able to decide whether the installation and the benefits that come with it are right for you.
The UK smart meter roll-out is part of an EU programme which will see all member states rolling out ‘intelligent metering systems’ to at least 80 per cent of domestic electricity consumers. This will follow an assessment of costs and benefits, as well as considering the cost and timetable for installing intelligent gas metering.
Energy suppliers are likely to start installing smart meters across the country in 2014, though some have started already. It will take until 2019 for them to provide all their customers with smart meters. Some suppliers may respond to requests for smart meters; others will work through areas one at a time. The UK government's advice is: "If you are interested in getting a smart meter now, you should shop around and contact different energy companies to see what their plans are.”
Foundation phase from March 2011
This stage involved suppliers undertaking small-scale installation trials to build and test systems, and to learn what works best for consumers and how to help them get the best from their meters. The UK government is working with industry, consumer groups and others to prepare for the second stage.
Mass rollout from March 2014
Each energy supplier will have its own plans for rolling out smart meters to customers. In accordance with government proposals, all suppliers will be obliged to complete the roll-out in 2019. Under current plans, most customers will receive their new smart meters between 2014 and 2019. Here is our summary of what the big six energy companies have done so far:
National rollout (due 2014)
Number of smart meters installed
Taking part in trials?
Can I get a smart meter fitted now?
|British Gas||Aims to install 2m by the end of 2012||396,754 (from website 16/3/12)||N/A||No. British Gas is selecting customers from across the country for installation||Details at the British Gas website.|
|EDF||No||Not known||Says it is taking part in several trials||No||Details at the EDF website.|
|E.ON||Intends to have installed 1 million smart meters by the go-live date||Has fitted 35,000 already, and fitted another 100,000 in 2011||Yes||Selects customers for trials; if you are interested in taking part register at the E-On website.||Details at the E.ON website.|
|NPower||No||Not known||Yes, in the Midlands, plans for further trials in Yorkshire and the North East||No – see the Npower website.||Details at the NPower website.|
|Scottish & Southern||No||9,700||Yes||No||Details at the Scottish & Southern website.|
|Scottish Power||No||Not known||Not known||No||Details at the Scottish Power website.|
Once the roll-out begins, your energy company will get in touch to arrange a suitable time and date for your smart meter to be installed. The installation itself will be carried out by a trained installer from the energy company. A typical smart meter installation takes around 1.5 hours – but this will differ from property to property, and depend on where your current meters are located.
Your smart meter and in-home display unit will be provided by your energy supplier. There will be no up-front or one-off charge for installation – costs will be recouped over time through your bills. As part of the installation, your energy company may offer to carry out an energy-efficiency inspection of your home, but you're not obliged to take up any of its recommendations, or buy any additional products.
When your smart meter is installed, it is important that you get advice on how to use it properly, either through your energy provider or an independent organisation, such as the Energy Saving Trust.
The government’s technical specification for smart meters is not due to be finalised until the end of 2012. So some smart meters already installed or due to be installed between now and 2012 will not comply (for example, they may not have the capacity to act as export meters).
The worst-case scenario is that your energy supplier will have to fit a replacement smart meter in your home (at their cost) before the end of 2019. We suggest that you discuss this with your energy supplier now, if possible before having a smart meter installed.