Do I need a smart meter?

This is a guest blog written by an industry insider.

A traditional energy bill gives a surprise hit to the couple's finances
A traditional energy bill can make painful reading and hit family finances unexpectedly

One of the biggest ever upgrades to Britain’s energy infrastructure is currently under way and if successful, it promises a wide range of environmental and consumer benefits.

You’ve probably heard by now that smart electricity and gas meters are being rolled out to households and small businesses in England, Scotland and Wales.  There are 26 million homes to do so it’s a massive undertaking.

They are installed by your energy supplier (separately if you have different companies for gas and electricity) and there is no cost for this upgrade to your existing meters.

Of course, like everything from pylons to free insulation schemes, the cost of the rollout to the energy industry is factored into everyone’s bills, but it’s hard to argue that the analogue system of submitting meter readings and estimated bills should survive much longer in a digital 21st century.

As well as the new meters going on the wall, energy companies are obliged to offer you an ‘in-home display’, which connects wirelessly to the meter and shows you what are spending in almost real-time.  This clearly has great potential to help households understand their energy use and make savings.

There are different makes of display in use, but all of them have the same core functions, including being able to set a budget and to see your historical energy use over time.

Then there’s the automatic meter readings, which will bring the era of estimated bills to a welcome end! Smart Energy GB, which is promoting the rollout on behalf of the industry, produced this fun series of videos looking at how ridiculous estimation would seem in most other industries.

The technical side of the rollout is pretty complex, but broadly speaking meter readings will be securely transmitted via radio frequencies in the north (for greater coverage), and cellular mobile technology in the south.

If you’re currently on a pre-payment meter, a smart meter offers a great range of improvements. Rather than rushing out to the shops with keys and cards, you will now be able to top up in new ways, such as via a text message, an app or online.  You also won’t need a different type of meter as smart meters can operate in either credit or pre-pay mode.

As an eco-measure, there is plenty to recommend.  Not only are there likely to be energy and carbon savings, as people get to grips with what their heating regimes and appliances cost, but in the bigger picture they are going to enable a much more efficient and flexible energy system.

For instance, smart meters are already enabling innovative ‘time of use’ tariffs, where energy automatically costs less at periods of low energy demand.  Some examples include TIDE from Green Energy UK, a ‘Sunshine tariff’ trialled in Cornwall last year, and the ‘FreeTime’ tariff from British Gas.

There’s a lot more to discuss about smart meters and so watch this space for a follow up blog.  In the meantime, why not contact your energy supplier and see if you can get your smart meter installation booked.

There’s a useful section on Smart Energy GB’s website where you can link through to your energy supplier’s section on smart meters:

And further questions are answered in their FAQ section:

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