I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about them in the news recently and you’re now wondering whether it’s worth getting a smart meter? I’ve had one installed for the last 18 months and I’ve taken a look at the pros and cons of smart meters.
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters measure your gas and electricity usage and then sends this data to your supplier. That means you don’t have to supply your own meter readings and nobody will need to visit. You can also see how much energy you using and when.
It’s important to note that a smart meter is not the same as a smart thermostat, which is used to control your heating.
What are the advantages?
I’m sure most of us are aware that energy companies often supply us with estimated bills. That means instead of sending somebody around to read our meter, they guess how much energy we use.
And usually, they guess wrong, which goes in their favour. So a year later, you will check your bill, and the energy company owes you £100’s! It’s always nice to get that lump some back, but it means that a company is gaining interest from our money. A smart meter means the energy company should always bill you accurately.
Another benefit is that you can track your usage in real-time. Here is my energy monitor supplied by First Utility.
As you can see, there is always some electricity being used – usually with items being left on standby. At 07.30 the family got up and the kettle and TV went on and at 10.30 the washing machine started. The energy spikes on the graph don’t come as a real surprise.
The big plus to this though, is that if I feel my electricity usage is too much, I can go around the house turning items on and off to see what costs me the most. Ask yourself “do I really need to leave that TV on stand-by?” Do you really know how much energy your Sky box uses up at night when it updates?
As I mentioned above, meter readings are sent to your energy company automatically… well usually. It does depend on your type of meter.
SMETS1 vs SMETS2
There are two types of meter – SMETS1 and SMETS2. SMETS stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications. SMETS1 was the first version and installed from 2013. The issue with this type of meter meant that it wouldn’t necessarily work if you switched suppliers – so it technically became ‘dumb’.
SMETS2 doesn’t have the same issue and can be used with all energy suppliers.
But if your smart meter does become ‘dumb’, it’s easy to find your own meter readings.
How to read a smart meter
Reading a smart meter is very simple to do:
- Press 9 on the keypad.
- For gas smart meters, you will see VOLUME, followed by 6 digits. This is your current reading and you only need to take the first 5 digits.
- For electric meters, you will see IMP KWH, followed by 8 digits. You will only need the first 7 for your reading.
If your meter has Economy 7 (see FAQ below):
- Press 6 on the keypad.
- The screen will possibly show BOOST VARIABLE followed by ACT RATE.
- For night and off-peak hours you’ll then see IMP R01 followed by 8 digits. You need the first 7.
- For day and peak hours you’ll see IMP R02 followed by 8 digits. Again, you just need the first 7.
Is a smart meter safe?
There are various tales about radio waves being transmitted that could harm us all. However, with WiFi and mobile phone signals, why is this any different.
I have found that a smart meter improves safety because you can monitor your gas usage. You may wonder why that is more important? When your new gas meter is fitted, the engineers should do a baseline check. This is mainly to check that your new meter is accurate.
However, in our case, it discovered that we had a tiny leak! Now we had no idea how long we had a gas leak for. Not only was it potentially dangerous, but it also cost us money. I don’t wish to exaggerate, but our new smart meter could have actually saved our lives!
Are smart meters free?
Yes. Well no, but technically yes.
The whole initiative has been backed by the government, who have told energy companies to install the meters for free. However, a lot of this money has been raised by increasing our energy prices. So it won’t cost you for the engineer to come out, instead, we have all been paying higher energy bills over the last few years.
Does the installation take long?
No, it should take between 1-2 hours. Obviously, this depends on everything being straightforward. In our case with the gas leak, it took just over two hours in total.
What does a smart meter look like?
This is my meter, which is very easy to read although not very exciting.
Any there any disadvantages to smart meters?
This is a matter of opinion. Personally, I don’t think so, but like any newish technology, there are plenty of nay-sayers. Some concerns include “bursts of radiation” as the meters use wireless technology. However, you would do well in modern society to avoid wireless networks.
Hacking. Some people have expressed concerns that the meters could be hacked. This could allow potential burglars to know when people are in or out due to their energy consumption. I would think though, that if somebody was able to hack this kind of technology, they could make far more in computing rather than popping around to your house and stealing your microwave.
Another “issue” is the worry that a smart meter will add to the amount of information being collected about you by big companies.
I don’t like to dismiss other people’s concerns, so if any of the above worries you, then I would avoid having a meter fitted.
The real downside for me is that if you have a SMETS1 meter, it could be rendered useless if you switch suppliers.
Can I say no to a smart meter?
Yes, having one installed is completely optional. If you are contacted by your energy company and you don’t want one, (in the words of Zammo) just say no. The government does plan to have smart meters in every home and business by 2020, so I’m not sure how long they will remain optional for. But as I revisit this post in June 2020, I see that it is very unikely.
So, are smart meters any good?
Not really, no. I soon got bored of checking how my energy was being used and I haven’t checked my display in over a year. Initially, it was quite useful, but I didn’t really need a meter to tell me where my energy was being wasted. How often do you think you’ll check your display to see that energy is being used, and then spend time wandering around the house turning appliances on and off?
It’s not all pointless though. It will stop the need for you having to provide readings to your energy supplier. And, as I said above, it should also mean that you don’t overpay by too much every month either.
If you are interested in finding out more visit the gov.uk site. Alternatively, take a look at your energy supplier’s website or give them a call.
What is Economy 7?
An Economy 7 tariff charges you different rates during the day compared to at night. Usually, electricity is more expensive during the day but much cheaper at night. This can be ideal for people that spend much of their day out of the house but are happy to use more electricity at night – such as for using the washing machine or charging an electric car.