Smart Meters

Pros and Cons of Smart Meters

Overall the installation of Smart Meters across the country would seem to be a good thing but only by a small margin financially. Good or bad can be looked at in many different ways and whether you think that they're an advantage or disadvantage will depend on your needs and attitude. Let's look at the pros and cons of different aspects:

What are the advantages of smart meters?

  • No need to provide meter readings: Smart meters' automatic transmission of information about your energy use including meter readings eliminates the need for you to get to your meter, write down your meter readings, and submit them to your energy supplier.
  • Potential for savings: By giving customers insight into their energy use, smart meters can help households reduce their energy bills by understanding what energy appliances use and when.
  • See your energy spend in pounds: By displaying your energy use not just in kilowatt hours but also in pounds and pence, smart meters can help customers understand how their energy use translates into spending.
  • Free at point of installation: You won't have to pay anything directly to have a smart meter installed.
  • No more estimated bills: With details about your energy consumption transmitted regularly to your supplier, you will no longer receive estimated bills based on your past use if you fail to submit readings. With accurate bills, you'll only be charged for the energy you actually use.
  • Easier for customers on pre-payment meters: Smart prepayment meters and their In Home Displays can help households on pay-as-you-go tariffs better keep track of their credit balances, even issuing alerts when meters are running low. They can also allow customers to top up their meters via the internet or a smartphone app, eliminating the need for them to travel to a local shop.
  • Benefit from time of use tariffs: Smart meters can help customers with time of use tariffs like Economy 7 and Economy 10 to more easily monitor their energy use and transfer more use to cheaper off-peak hours. Smart meters also allow much more complex time of use tariffs, ultimately giving different prices for each half-hour every day, enabling customers to watch gas and electricity prices rise and fall in real-time and adjust their activities accordingly.
  • Reduced duration power cuts: Engineers will know much faster when power cuts have occurred and their location. This will enable them to make quicker repairs.
  • Improve grid efficiency: By better understanding the flows of electricity and gas through the grid and distribution networks, enhancements can be focussed on where they are really needed.
  • Reduce your environmental impact: With greater insight in your energy use, you can change your habits, not just to see savings on your bills, but also to reduce your energy carbon footprint. For example some smart tariffs allow customers to save money by using energy away from peak times or when there is excess clean electricity available, thus reducing the use of fossil fuels.
  • Switch suppliers easily: By providing change over readings at exactly the right time and allowing automatic set up of credit/prepayment and tariffs, smart meters make switching suppliers much easier.
  • Automate your home: Customers can opt for electric vehicles, heating systems and smart appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers, that can connect to the smart metering system to access pricing data. Their activity can be programmed to automatically take advantage of cheaper rates, thus reducing the impact on the energy grid and saving money.
  • Improved care monitoring: The Smart Meters for Independent Living (SMILE) project is a ground-breaking trial into the energy usage patterns of people with disabilities and older people living independently. The project uses this data to create a view of their daily routines and spot unusual changes in behaviour which could cause concern.
  • High rates of customer satisfaction: Consumer watchdog Citizens Advice found that 80% of people who had a smart meter installed were satisfied with the installation process.
  • More Supplier deals: Some of the best energy deals, with the cheapest gas and electricity, are sometimes only available to customers with smart meters. These may include personalised tariffs, tailored to your household's specific energy needs and use.

What are the disadvantages of smart meters?

  • Change behaviour for savings: Smart meters don't automatically deliver savings. Customers have to actively engage with what their In Home Display is showing and change their behaviour based on its information, or they won't see their bills fall.
  • Cost spread across all our energy bills: The smart meter rollout is estimated to cost nearly £14 billion, an expenditure that will be spread across all our energy bills over the next few years. The way the costs are being spread means that the maximum cost impact on a customers bill is an additional £11 a year.
  • Smart meters may go dumb after switching: Most of the smart meters that have already been installed are first generation devices, which often 'go dumb', or lose functionality, after customers switch suppliers. The second generation of smart meters don't have this problem and most of the first generation meters are slowly being upgraded to prevent the problem.
  • Not available to some customer on prepayment and time of use tariffs: While smart meters technically exist for households on prepayment and time of use tariffs and can make these tariffs easier to manage and find savings with, suppliers have been slow to upgrade their internal systems to offer these variants. The result is that some suppliers aren't offering prepayment and time of use on smart meters yet.
  • Poor signal outside the house: Not all households have a good radio communication signal outside their house. If the signal is poor the meters cannot communicate to the supplier. In these circumstances a Smart Meter will still be installed but it will be "dumb" and you'll have to manually take meters readings.
  • Poor signal inside the house: In large houses, those with thick walls or foil insulation, the signal from the communications hub on the electricity meter to the IHD (In Home Display) may not be good. If the signal is poor the IHD may only work intermittently which can be very frustrating.
  • Privacy concerns: Some customers worry information about their energy use will be made available to third parties. However, UK law currently prohibits energy suppliers from passing on their information without the customer's explicit permission.

Do people like Smart Meters?

The government are carrying on with Smart Meter installations boosted by customers liking the experience. Recent surveys from August 2017 and March 2019 have shown:

Accuracy

The accuracy of smart meters should be better as the reading will be taken at exactly the right time when your tariff changes or you move out, however, there have been some concerns raised on their accuracy. Some tests have shown that power controllers, such as light dimmers, can prevent the smart meter recording accurately. Some experiments have shown that some smart meters over record the power used by up to 250% and some under record by 40 % depending on the power measurement technique used. Further work will have to be carried out in this area.

Financially

The government's own business case for the roll-out of Smart Meters is only just positive, based largely on the forecast that customer will reduce their use of energy by understanding it better and being better informed.

If you already have a display at home, of the clip on variety, showing your energy consumption then you are half way there. The In Home Displays (previously known as Smart Meter Displays or Home Energy Monitors) provided with Smart Meters will do more though, in that it covers both electricity and gas, and can show your current bill. To save money you will need to take action such as turning off unneeded lights. The In Home Display will help you see when you're using more energy than usual so can be trigger for you to look around the house to see what's left on.

More advanced energy products in the future, such as a different rates for peak times, should allow energy conscious customers to save more money, however, ironically these conflict with the governments' drive to force suppliers to have a small range of simple products.

Features

Apart from PAYG (Pay As You Go) the features a customer can play with are limited. You will no longer have to submit a meter reading and therefore should never get an estimated bill again. This is especially important when you change supplier or move house as things often go wrong there currently when people either don't provide reading or provide conflicting ones.

In time we expect that suppliers will provide better on-line analysis of your energy use, provided you give them permission to take half-hourly readings. The services offered in this area are currently limited.

Privacy & Security

There are concerns from some groups concerning security of the data or privacy. Smart Meters have been built to the latest security standards and are very secure. Suppliers have to ask your permission to collect meters readings on daily basis, so you have control. Without your permission they can only collect meter readings on a monthly basis. Like any technical secure system today, such as banks and NHS systems, the weakest link is probably the staff involved along the way. If you are happy to use on-line systems for other purposes such as banking, it's likely you'll also be happy with your Smart Meter. If you have concerns you can ask your supplier to only collect one meter reading a month, this reveals very little about you. (Page updated: 2021-10-26)


Questions & Answers


Why do suppliers keep pushing Smart meters?
It may seem strange why suppliers keep pushing smart meters even though customers can just say no. The reason for this is that suppliers have to tell the regulator Ofgem every year what they will achieve by the end of the year in terms of % of customers with a Smart Meter, and they must not miss this target.
Ofgem will also check that the rate of installation is high enough to cover most customers by June 2025, so suppliers can't get away with just giving a low figure.
If suppliers don't achieve this forecast then they get fined. For example EDF Energy was fined £350k in June 2018 for missing their own forecast target. (Updated: 2021-11-13)

Are smart meters safe?
Yes. Smart meters are subject to the same safety regulations and testing of any in-home technological devices, including baby monitors and mobile phones. Additionally the meters are secure having a security system developed by industry and government experts including GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre. A side benefit is that many safety problems are being spotted in peoples homes during installation of the smart meter which would not have been spotted without a visit. (Updated: 2019-10-21)

What services do I have on a meter that's "gone dumb"?
On a meter that's "gone dumb" you will only retain the ability to see kWh on your IHD. As the supplier can't communicate with the meter they cannot send the details of a tariff to the meter so the p/kWh rates and £ will not be updated. Additionally no meter readings can be automatically collected. (Updated: 2020-02-09)

What does "going dumb" mean?
When a meter 'goes dumb' it means that the communications to the meter have stopped. This could be due to a communications failure or due to the current supplier not supporting the communication method to that meter. (Updated: 2018-05-12)

What will energy companies do with the information they collect about my energy consumption?
Under Ofgem codes published July 2013, you can dictate how much data your energy supplier can retrieve from your smart meter and whether your supplier can share that information with third parties. See our Customer Rights page for your rights on meter readings. You can also decide whether or not your supplier can use that information for marketing purposes. Just call your supplier if you want to check or change your preferences. (Updated: 2019-10-21)

Can my supply be turned off remotely?
Smart meters have the facility to remotely disconnect and reconnect both the electricity and gas supply. However, most suppliers seem to have decided it is too dangerous to remotely disconnect or reconnect, as in the case of disconnection they cannot always be sure that the customer isn't relying on a supply for serious health reasons and in the case of reconnection the customer may have left a cooker on for example. (Updated: 2015-01-23)

Why are smart meters controversial?
Whilst earlier conversations about smart meters focused on safety (which you can read more about in Campaigns Against), more recent criticisms have sprung from how the government and suppliers are handling the roll-out. From cost to customer communication, the plan to get a smart meter into every home by 2024 has been a bumpy ride so far. In early 2014, EDF Energy, ScottishPower and npower called for a review of the roll-out, stating the cost to customers would be £1.8 billion. This, they said, was due to the "ambitious" deadline of every household in four years and the cost of the In Home Displays. The cost is ultimately paid by customers through measures on their energy bills. Instead, suppliers proposed, customers could link up their smart meter to their smartphone or tablet to save cost. In 2013, independent research commissioned by uSwitch found that 55% of us were "in the dark" about smart meters. That meant households did not understand what smart meters did and how they could benefit them. However, later studies of those with actual smart meters in their homes enjoyed more accurate billing and were more satisfied with their providers. (Updated: 2019-12-22)

How does a Smart Meter help me change Supplier more easily?
A Smart meter will automatically provide the supplier you are leaving, and the supplier you are moving to, with the correct meter reading for the exact point of changeover. Often this reading was a point of confusion as there could be different views of the changeover reading between suppliers and the customer.
On SMETS1 and earlier meters there have been problems with customers losing Smart functionality when changing supplier, this is addressed by the new DCC system which supports SMETS2 meters and upgraded SMETS1 meters. (Updated: 2019-10-21)

What are the benefits of having a smart meter?
There are a number of benefits if you have smart meters:
  • More accurate bills
  • Smart meters mean the end of estimated bills, and the end of overpaying (or underpaying) for your energy
  • No one has to come to your home to read your meter; you do not have to submit meter readings yourself
  • Better oversight and management of your energy use with a real-time data display in your home potentially saving you money.
(Updated: 2018-07-01)


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