What is a smart meter?
Smart meters do the same job as old-style meters – they measure how much gas and electricity you use. But they do lots more too. Upgrade to a smart meter and you’ll get an in-home display (IHD) – a small, touch-screen tablet that lets you track your energy consumption and spending. Just like the dial on a traditional meter, the IHD tells you how much energy you’ve used, but it can also tell you how much you’re currently using. And how much you’ve used in the past few hours, days, weeks or months. The smartest ones even allow you to set yourself a daily allowance or limit, then warn you when you’re getting close to it.
Smart meters communicate via the GSM mobile network, so they can automatically send usage data to your energy supplier, which means you no longer have to let a meter reader into your home. The IHD gives you complete visibility of your energy consumption in pounds and pence, so you can see which appliances cost most, and manage your home more intelligently. Customers with a pre-paid meter can also see precisely how much credit they have left, and how much emergency credit is available. And in the future, smart meters will make it easier to seamlessly switch suppliers – so you’ll be able to take advantage of the best deal available.
What about switching?
If you live in one of the 13 million homes that currently have a first-generation SMETS 1 smart meter installed, then it’s true that if you switch suppliers, your energy meter will lose some of its smarts – it won’t be able to communicate with the new supplier. Which means you’ll have to go back to manual readings. But don’t let that put you off switching suppliers to get a cheaper deal. And if you love your SMETS 1 so much that you want to keep it fully functioning, then at least check with your provider that you’re on the best possible tariff.
How can I get a smart meter?
Many energy companies are rolling out smart meters region by region, so waiting times are a bit of a postcode lottery. If you’re really keen to have one installed, then you could register your interest with your energy provider – but if their engineers are working in a different area, it may not help you jump the queue. The alternative is to switch to a supplier that requires a smart meter – they’ll usually arrange to have one installed quite quickly. But remember that there are just a few restrictions around qualifying for a free smart meter - some suppliers exclude customers on specific tariffs, and smart meters don’t’ work in areas with poor signal strength.