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Smart meters explained

Smart meter roll-out

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Smart meter roll-out

What will the smart meter switchover mean for you? Will it cost you anything? We answer your key questions about the smart meter roll-out.

The government has called on energy companies to replace all old-style gas and electricity meters with smart meters. 

Smart meters measure your exact gas and electricity usage and then send all the information back to your energy supplier, without the need for someone to come and take your meter readings.

When are smart meters being rolled out?

The official national smart meter roll-out begun in 2016 and will finish in 2020. The smart meter infrastructure went live across the UK, The Department for Business, Innovation and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed, on 30 November 2016.

The start date was pushed back multiple times.

Completing the national roll-out will be an enormous logistical and technical challenge for the energy industry, involving visits to around 30m homes and small businesses and installing about 53m new meters.

By June 2017, energy suppliers had installed more than seven million smart meters in homes in Britain.

What happens during the smart meter roll out?

Energy companies will contact households to install a smart meter and you will have to be at home during the installation visit. There is a code of conduct that smart meter installers are required to follow. 

Smart meters will send information about your energy use to a central data body, called the Data Communication Company (DCC). The DCC's wireless network will then link each home's smart meter with their supplier, network operators and energy service companies. 

However, many energy companies are still installing smart meters that aren't fully compatible with the network - these are known as SMETS1 (Smart Meter Equipment Technical Specification) meters. If you have one of these meters and you switch energy supplier, it may revert back to being 'dumb' and you'll have to take meter readings again.

If you have a SMETS1 smart meter and you switch supplier, your smart meter may revert back to being 'dumb'.

They’re operating in ‘dumb mode’ owing to ‘technical issues, such as meters being unable to communicate externally via the wide area network, or customers choosing to switch to suppliers currently unable to operate smart meters in smart mode,’ the government Department for Business, Innovation and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told us.

Suppliers can continue to install these SMETS1 meters for up to a year after the ‘full range of DCC services’ are available, the government states. Most are doing this. The ‘end date’ for installing SMETS1 meters is 13 July 2018. The government has up until January 2018 to change the July date; after that, it won't change again. 

There are more than 330,000 smart meters installed which are not operating in ‘smart mode’ so far, according to the government. 

SMETS2 meters will be fully compatible with the network. BEIS said that, with the smart meter data and communications network live, 'energy suppliers can start rolling out the next generation of smart meters, putting households and businesses in control of their energy use'.

We'll be keeping an eye on what this means for you when suppliers start installing SMETS2 meters, expected to be later this year or early 2018.

What you need to know if you get a smart meter 

Here is what you need to be aware of if you get a smart meter installed before SMETS2 meters are available following the DCC network being switched on:

  • If you subsequently switch supplier, your new supplier might not be able to operate your meter in ‘smart’ mode. So you might have to revert to taking meter readings.
  • If the smart meter installed is not compliant with the official roll-out specification, the supplier would need to upgrade your meter between 2016 and 2020.
  • Energy companies are under no obligation to offer you an in-home display (IHD) with a SMETS1 meter. If the main reason you want a smart meter is to monitor how you use energy, check whether the model you're being offered has an IHD.

Find out more about getting a smart meter installed.

How much will a smart meter cost?

There will be no upfront charge to customers being transferred to a smart meter – and a smart meter will put an end to estimated bills, so you'll be paying for only the gas and electricity you use.

However, the cost of installing smart meters on a national scale – which energy regulator Ofgem estimates will be around £11bn – will be passed on to customers by the energy companies in the form of higher gas and electricity bills.

On the other hand, savings made by the energy suppliers should be passed on to their customers. It’s estimated that smart meters will save energy suppliers more than £400m a year, by removing the need to take meter readings or deal with bill disputes.

But we have concerns about the lack of processes to keep costs in check and about the risk that consumers could fail to reap the full benefits that smart meters should provide.

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?

It's hoped that smart meters – when used alongside the in-home display – will help people become more aware of how much energy they're using. So they'll take steps to reduce their energy consumption. The organisation responsible for telling us all about smart meters, Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for consumer awareness of smart meters, ran a survey which found 85% of people with a smart meter said they had changed the way they do things at home to use less energy. 

But the same research found that 95% of people who don’t have a smart meter but know what one is had done the same in the last six months.

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. But Britain has set itself an even more ambitious target of fitting every home with smart meters.

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.

You can object to having a smart meter installed if you really don't want one. Read our guide on your rights to refuse a smart meter.

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