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Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters. Together with their accompanying in-home displays, smart meters will help you keep track of the energy you use in your home, and will cut out the need for meter readings.
By providing information about your energy use, these devices can help you to make informed decisions to manage your energy costs. The UK Government plans for every home and business in the UK to have a smart meter for electricity and gas by the end of 2020.
How smart meters work
Smart meters measure the total energy used in the same way as a traditional meter, but they can also tell you when you have used it and how much it costs. Additionally, they have a communication capability that allows this data to be displayed on a device inside your home and read remotely by your energy supplier.
An in-home display (IHD) unit will also be provided along with the smart meter 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 gas and electricity use in pounds and pence, as well as units of energy.
The display will also present historical information on consumption so that you can compare current and past use.
The benefits of smart meters
Once your smart meter is installed, you will be able to see instantly when you're using the most energy – and how much it costs, whatever display method you choose. This means you can adapt your energy use in line with the smart meter information and cut down on waste to provide long-term carbon and financial savings.
For the first time, smart meters will allow households and businesses to make informed decisions based on accurate and real-time cost information. Currently many of us receive estimated bills after the energy has been used, making it difficult to reconcile costs with usage.
More about smart meters
To find out more about smart meter roll-out and installation, read our FAQs below.
Read the Ofgem factsheet Smart metering– what it means for Britain’s homes.
Smart meter roll-out, installation and other FAQs
Why is there a smart meter roll-out programme?
The government views the smart meter roll-out as an important step in giving consumers more control over how much energy they use by providing accurate and timely information on domestic energy consumption. This will help consumers make more informed decisions to reduce domestic energy bills and carbon emissions.
Smart metering is also an important step to improve the efficiency of the energy network by balancing the energy supplies we have more accurately with our consumption patterns. This is a major undertaking for energy providers as the roll-out will see 50 million gas and electricity meters installed in 27 million homes by 2020.
What does the foundation phase of the smart meter roll-out mean?
Between now and 2015, installation trials are being undertaken to build and test business processes, and to establish what works best for consumers. The government is working with industry, consumer groups and others to prepare for the mass roll-out. This includes confirming a code of practice to ensure householder protection and setting up the data and communications infrastructure needed to read meters remotely and securely.
Almost 1.5 million smart meters have already been installed throughout the UK as part of pilot work by energy providers.
When is the mass roll-out phase of smart meters?
Each energy provider will have its own plans for rolling out smart meters to customers. In accordance with government proposals, all providers will be obliged to offer their customers a smart meter between 2015 and 2020. 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.
Energy providers are responsible for arranging installations with customers to complete the roll-out. The installation of smart meters in homes and businesses has already begun as part of trials. The main smart meter roll out will begin in 2015 and will provide all customers with smart meters.
When will I get a smart meter?
The installation itself will be carried out by a trained installer from the energy company. A typical smart meter installation takes around one and a half hours – but this will differ from property to property, and depend on where your current meters are located.
Some providers may respond to requests for smart meters, others will work through different geographical areas one at a time. The government advises consumers to shop around and contact different energy companies to find out how they plan to roll-out their smart meter programmes.
Will there be any charges or additional costs to install a smart meter?
Both smart meters and in-home display units will be supplied by energy providers. There will be no up-front or one-off charge for installation – costs will be recouped over time through bills. As part of the installation, an energy company may offer to carry out an energy-efficiency inspection of your home, but you're not obliged to take up any of the 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.
I currently have a pre-payment meter, will I get a smart meter?
During mass-roll-out, all customers, including pre-payment customers, will receive a smart meter. A smart meter will have the added functionality of being able to be remotely switched by the energy supplier from ‘credit mode to ‘pre-payment mode’ and vice versa. Consumer protection rules state that if a provider wants to switch you to ‘pre-payment mode’ they have to make sure it is safe and practical for you.
What will happen if I already have a smart meter?
The UK Government’s technical specification for smart meters is still being finalised. This means some smart meters already installed may not comply. For example, they may not have the capacity to act as export meters. Energy providers may have to fit a replacement smart meter in your home (at no cost to the owner) before the end of 2020.
Some providers are successfully upgrading smart meters remotely, without having to visit the home. We suggest that you discuss this with your energy provider now, and if possible, before having a smart meter installed.
Are there any risks to consumers during the smart meter roll-out?
The UK Government is working with industry, consumer groups and other stakeholders to ensure that the smart meter roll-out is conducted in the best interest of all consumers, particularly vulnerable ones. There will also be a new code of practice for energy providers who install meters, to protect consumers from a range of potential problems including data protection and miss-selling.
A smart metering system will enable you to maintain control over the amount of consumption data passed on to the energy provider, as well as third parties.