Nearly a million households have smart meters that no longer work – but you don’t have to join them. We looked into ways to keep your smart meter smart, plus what you need to know if you’re living with a ‘dumb’ smart meter.
Overall, the majority of those with smart meters find that they meet their expectations. More than half (56%) of those we surveyed said they better understood their energy use since getting a smart meter. Those who had smart meters for more than two years felt that their bills were more accurate.
But views are far from consistent, and a significant minority currently have meters which don’t give them any of the promised smart benefits – because they no longer work.
What you need to know before you get a smart meter, including how smart meters work and if you can save money with a smart meter.
Is your smart meter still working?
Three in ten (29%) people we surveyed who had switched supplier since getting a smart meter found that both it and their in-home display (IHD) stopped working. Another 19% said just their smart meter turned dumb, while 11% found that only their IHD didn’t work any more.*
In total, 943,000 households are thought to have dumb first-generation smart meters, according to the National Audit Office.
This means that your smart meter will behave like a traditional meter, and you will need to take manual meter readings and send them to your energy supplier.
So if this describes you and your smart meter, you’re far from alone.
First-generation smart meters can stop working, or turn dumb, when you switch energy supplier. This is because first-generation meters are not yet connected to the central wireless network for smart meters, which allows companies to receive data from all smart meters. Without this, companies cannot necessarily read each other’s smart meters.
Meters turning dumb, compatibility with solar panels, and difficulties with getting meter readings: read our guide to smart-meter problems and how to solve them.
When will your meter become smart again?
The government says it intends to restore smart functionality to meters which have lost it.
It is now technically possible to connect some first-generation meters to the wireless network which is used by second-generation meters. Once connected, first-generation meters will be able to switch without losing their smart functions.
Around two thirds of first-generation smart meters will be able to be upgraded in this way. The first meters are due to be upgraded from May 2019 and different brands will be able to connect at different times.
Aclara, some Honeywell Eslter and some Itron meters will be in the first batch of smart meters to be connected, according to Smart DCC. If your meter is one of these (check the case where the brand is usually printed) you’ll be among the first to get an upgrade, though there is a few months’ window during which this can happen.
Other brands will follow: check our research on what to do if your meter is no longer smart to see the schedule.
When your first-generation smart meter is eligible, it will be upgraded automatically; you won’t need to do anything. ‘Dumb’ meters will be prioritised. Energy firms will have a year to connect first-generation meters to the network, starting from when it’s possible for them to do so, or the date on which a customer with a first-generation smart meter switches to them.
But there’s no solution yet for the final one third of first-generation meters. The government is currently consulting on whether to require the DCC to enroll Secure-branded meters and, if the plan gets the go-ahead, they could start being upgraded from September. That leaves just 1% of first-generation smart meters unaccounted for. If you have an EDMi smart meter, yours is among them.
Ultimately, suppliers must replace any ‘un-enrolled’ first-generation meters with second-generation ones by the end of 2020.
How to keep your smart meter smart
If your first-generation meter is still smart, do your best to keep it that way! Staying put with your current provider which operates your smart meter means there’s no risk of losing smart functions. But a key benefit of smart meters is being able to use the data it provides about your energy use to shop around and find the best gas and electricity deal for you.
Some companies can operate first-generation meters from rivals. We spoke to 10 of the biggest companies and listed their answers below to help out if you want to switch.
These firms can operate each other’s meters because they use compatible technology, the same brand of meter, or have agreements in place so that they can read each other’s meters.
Ovo Energy and Utilita also both told us that they will replace smart meters which they can’t operate.
If a supplier you want to switch to isn’t listed here, ask whether it will be able to get automatic meter readings from your smart meter before you switch.
Several companies told us that they can tell whether a customer has a smart meter, and if it’s a brand that they will be able to operate, from industry data.
Find out if your energy supplier is installing smart meters yet, and the latest on the smart meter roll-out.
If you don’t have a smart meter
So far, around a quarter of homes have a smart meter. If you don’t have one, expect to be offered a smart meter before the end of 2020. You can contact your supplier to find out when it will be able to install yours.
It’s worth waiting until after 15 March to have a smart meter installed. After this, all companies will have reached the ‘end-date’ for installing first generation ones.
This doesn’t guarantee that they will only be installing second-generation meters after, but it’s much more likely; first-generation meters will stop counting towards companies’ roll-out totals. Ultimately, suppliers could face fines if they don’t meet their agreed targets.
The government is also planning to introduce a new rule at the end of March which will require energy firms to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to install second-generation meters when they fit a meter for the first time in a home, or replace an existing one.
When you arrange your appointment, confirm with your energy supplier that it will be installing a second-generation meter at your home.
If you really don’t want a smart meter, it’s not compulsory. Know your rights about whether you have to have smart meters.
Which? smart meter research
We conducted an online survey of 2,910 members of the general public with smart meters in September 2018. This was part of our annual energy companies satisfaction survey of 7,429 GB customers.