Energy monitors: Smart meters and energy monitors explained Smart meter roll-out
Old-style gas and electricity meters are being replaced by smart meters, under government plans. Smart meters measure your exact gas and electricity usage and then send all the information back to your energy supplier – either directly, or via a data-processing centre – without the need for someone to come and take your meter readings.
But what will the smart meter switchover mean for you? Here we answer key questions about the roll-out.
When are smart meters being rolled out?
Some energy companies have already started to install smart meters but the official national smart meter roll-out will start in 2015 and finish in 2020.
Completing the national roll-out will be an enormous logistical and technical challenge for the energy industry, involving visits to around 30 million homes and small businesses and installing over 50 million meters.
Which energy companies are already offering smart meters?
British Gas is offering selected existing customers with old meters that need replacing the chance to get a smart meter installed. It has committed to installing two million by the end of 2012. The British Gas smart meter also comes with a free in-house display unit, which shows you your energy use in real time.
One of the smaller energy companies, First Utility, also offers smart meters to customers who sign up to its Smart as Standard tariff. It says it aims to install your smart meter within a maximum of 60 days from your supply going live. The First Utility smart meters don't currently come with an in-house display – instead there's an online service through which you can view your daily energy consumption and monthly bills.
Many of the other big energy companies are conducting small-scale smart meter installation trials before the national roll-out starts.
If you are thinking of switching energy supplier, you can compare gas and electricity suppliers using Which?'s independent online switching service.
How much will a smart meter cost me?
There will be no upfront cost to customers being transferred to a smart meter – and a smart meter will put an end to estimated bills, so you'll only be paying for the gas and electricity you use, not meter readings.
It’s also estimated that they will save energy suppliers more than £300m a year, by removing the need to take meter readings or deal with bill disputes.
However, the cost of installing smart meters on a national scale – which energy regulator Ofgem estimates will cost around £11bn – is also likely to be passed on to customers by the energy companies in the form of higher gas and electricity bills.
At the moment, the roll-out is being led by the energy companies with no checks in place to make sure that costs don't spiral.
Why are smart meters being rolled out?
Under EU legislation, 80% of consumers will need to have smart meters installed by 2020 as part of a larger plan to help European nations meet energy-efficiency targets. It's hoped that smart meters – when used alongside the handheld energy monitor you'll also receive – will help people become more aware of how much energy they're using and take steps to reduce consumption.
Read What is a smart meter? to find out more about the potential benefits to you.
The nationwide installation of smart meters is a key part of the shift from standard, passive electricity grids to 'smart grids'. Smart grids use digital technology to better manage electricity demand and production, and will be able to communicate directly with 'smart' homes or appliances, and offer more flexible tariffs. It should also make it easier to sell any excess electricity you generate via microgeneration technology, such as a solar PV panel, back to the grid.
Find out more about how smart meters work in our guide to smart metres.