Smart meters explained
Getting a smart meter installed
Article 3 of 3
Getting a smart meter installed
What you need to know about smart meter installation, from which companies are installing them to common smart meter problems.
The official smart meter network was switched on in November 2016. We tell you what you need to know if you had a smart meter installed prior to this, or if you're due to have one installed soon, as your smart meter might not stay as smart as you were led to believe.
You don't have to accept a smart meter if you don't want one. And if you did have a smart meter installed before the official roll out, or are due to have one installed, there are some things you need to know. Scroll down to read more.
But first, watch our video below, where we invited energy firm First Utility round to talk us through the installation process.
Smart meter installation video
What should I watch out for if I get a smart meter installed now?
Energy companies have been installing first-generation smart meters. These meters are called SMETS1 meters.
Here are a few things you should know if you want a smart meter now, before suppliers start installing second-generation smart meters (SMETS2):
- If you subsequently switch supplier, your new supplier might not be able to operate your meter in ‘smart’ mode, and you might have to revert to taking meter readings.
- If the smart meter installed isn't compliant with the official roll-out specification, the supplier would need to upgrade your meter between 2016 and 2020 to bring it into the DCC communications system. The national campaign for the roll-out, Smart Energy GB, says it believes this upgrade can be done remotely and will not require an extra visit.
- Energy companies are under no obligation to offer you an in-home display (IHD) with a first generation (SMETS1) smart meter. If the main reason you want a smart meter is to monitor how you use energy, check whether you're also being offered an IHD.
Energy suppliers can continue to install SMETS1 smart meters for up to a year after the communications network is live, so until around November 2017. The government plans to announce a date after which installed SMETS1 meters will stop counting towards suppliers' roll-out target. There are around 330,000 smart meters installed which are not operating in ‘smart mode’, according to the government, due to ‘technical issues’ or consumers switching to suppliers which do not support smart meters.
If your energy supplier wants to install a smart meter in your home now (before it's installing second-generation smart meters), you don't have to accept one. You can ask your supplier to replace your old meter with a smart meter set up to work in ‘dumb’ mode with all the communications switched off. But this does mean you'll have to continue to provide manual meter readings.
Although the government has a target to fit every home with smart meters by 2020, you aren't obliged to have one. Energy companies have been asked to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to install one in your home, but the meaning of ‘reasonable steps’ is still being debated.
If you really don't want a smart meter and want to find out more about your rights, see our consumer rights guide on do I have to accept a smart meter?
Which energy companies are already offering smart meters?
None of the energy companies we spoke to in June 2017 have started installing second-generation (SMETS2) smart meters yet, though several intend to start in the next few weeks.
British Gas is offering smart meters to dual fuel customers across Great Britain who meet its eligibility criteria. It has already installed 3.3 million smart meters in homes - more than half of the total domestic smart meters installed so far. British Gas's smart meter comes with an in-home display unit, which shows you your energy use in real time, and how much it is costing you.
You may not be eligible for a smart meter yet if: British Gas supplies your gas but not electricity, you're on Economy 7 with storage heaters, have a specialist meter, meters which are more than five meters from the property, or have no connectivity to the smart meter communications network. It's currently testing SMETS2 meters before it starts installing them in customers' homes.
EDF Energy has installed over 250,000 smart meters and is contacting customers in areas where smart meter appointments are available. It’s not installing smart meters for prepayment customers yet. Details about your energy use are available through the My Account app; or you can choose to have a smart meter display.
Eon is able to install smart meters for the majority of its domestic customers and has installed around half a million so far. It says that some customers’ homes may not have sufficient signal strength for a smart meter yet; Eon aims to identify potential problems when customers book an installation appointment.
Its smart energy display shows how much energy you’re using and how much it costs, in real time. You can also set a budget and be alerted if you overspend.
First Utility also offers smart meters to most of its customers and has now installed 130,000 of them. But it said that lack of connectivity can make it impossible to install smart meters in some areas. It plans to start offering SMETS2 meters in the first half of 2018.
First Utility now provides an in-home display with your smart meter. The display gives a summary of your energy use and account balance, in real time. It also has an app and My Energy tool - these let you see your daily energy consumption and monthly bills.
Npower told us it has recently started to install SMETS1 smart meters and has mainly installed SMETS-capable meters so far (which will be remotely upgraded by next year’s deadline). But it said it couldn’t share the number of meters installed so far as it’s ‘commercially confidential’.
Ovo has installed over 500,000 smart meters to its customers. It will get in touch with customers when their area is eligible, but you can also book an installation online.
SSE has installed more than half a million smart meters so far and provides an in-home display. This lets customers see their energy use in pounds and pence, kWh or CO2 generated. You can set targets for your energy use and traffic lights tell you if you’re on track.
At the moment, SSE cannot install smart meters for some customers in high-rise flats, whose homes have thick walls, gas and electric meters which are placed far apart, or where there is no network connection.
Utilita says it has already installed smart meters for 825,000 of its customers - more than any other supplier except British Gas. Customers can book an installation online. New customers should get a smart meter within six weeks of switching to Utilita and there are few areas in which it doesn't currently offer smart meters (e.g. certain parts of North Scotland).
Scottish Power has also begun rolling out smart meters to its customers in stages. It says it will contact customers when it is ready to begin installations in their areas.
Smart meter problems
Smart meter installation and functionality issues have come to light during the early stages of the roll-out. Some of those experienced by consumers so far include:
Your home has no access to a mobile network
Smart meters need to be able to connect to the Data Communications Company (DCC) through a mobile network. At the beginning of the roll-out, the DCC is required to connect to 80% of British households. So there will be homes that won't be able to access the DCC network, and these homes won't be able to use a smart meter.
If there's any doubt that your home may not have coverage, make sure you get a pre-installation visit to confirm this.
Nationwide coverage will increase to 99.25% by the end of the roll-out in 2021.
Your smart meter won’t connect to your in-home display
Smart meters need to be able to connect via wireless network to your in-home display so you can see how much energy you’re using. A ‘hub’ is installed with your smart meter (often built-into it) to do this.
The current hubs will work in around 70% of properties, according to government research. If your home is particularly large, or you live in a high-rise or low-rise flat (where your in-home display is some distance from the smart meter), it’s more likely that the current hub won’t work.
A new hub is being trialled which should work in 96.5% of homes. This should be available in 2018. Energy suppliers will provide a solution for the remaining homes.
Your energy meter is kept in a confined space, too small for smart meter installers to work
If your meter is in a small cupboard or another confined space, then the technician can't install your smart meter. They may ask you to dismantle the cupboard or move other obstacles to reach the meter.
If your old meter was faulty, your energy payments will change
If you had a faulty old meter, your bills may change with a new, accurate smart meter. An energy company can charge you retrospectively for the previous year if you have paid too little. If you have paid too much, your supplier has to refund you for the whole period that the meter was faulty.
You have solar panels and a smart meter is not compatible
We’ve heard from members with solar panels who have been refused a smart meter, and from others who have had a smart meter installed that does not work with their solar panels.
The government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told us that all smart (SMETS) meters can measure energy consumed (imported) and exported back into the grid. Smart Energy GB states that in-home displays will show how much energy you’re buying from your supplier, but not necessarily energy you generate. (Solar panel owners already have a PV-generation meter that tells them how much electricity their system is generating.)
EDF says it has installed smart meters for customers with solar panels. British Gas, First Utility, Ovo Energy and Utilita told us that they are also able to install smart meters at homes with solar panels. SSE is also able to install but advises customers to wait until technical constraints are resolved.
Neither Eon nor Npower are yet installing smart meters for customers with solar panels. Eon hopes to being in the ‘coming months’, following industry-wide technical problems in the earlier stages of the roll-out which have now been resolved.
Scottish Power told us it could not share this commercially sensitive information with us.
If you have solar panels and are offered a smart meter, make sure your supplier is aware. Check whether your smart meter and in-home display will work fully with them.
Want to pay less for energy? Use our independent switching service, Which? Switch to find the cheapest energy deal.