The government has set itself an ambitious target of offering every home a smart meter by 2020 – we answer some of your most common questions.
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters monitor your actual energy use and send it to your provider automatically.
You get separate gas and electricity smart meters, both of which monitor your usage and are connected to a communications hub.
This hub sends your energy data to your supplier via a wireless network.
Smart meters also come with an in-home display so you can see how much energy you’re using at any given time and how much it’s costing you.
This should hopefully help you be more efficient or at least better understand your energy use.
Read more: how smart meters work
Is a smart meter mandatory?
It’s completely up to you as to whether you get a smart meter installed.
The government is aiming to install smart meters in every home by 2020 and there are benefits to having one, such as meter readings being sent direct to your supplier so you get more accurate bills, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a smart meter if you don’t want one.
You don’t have to pay to have a smart meter installed by your supplier. If you would like to get one and haven’t been contacted by your energy supplier yet, you should get in touch.
Or if you’re not in a rush you can wait for them to get in touch with you as they roll out the meters to their customers.
Are smart meters safe?
If you look closely at a smart meter, you’ll see it has a CE mark, which means they meet the European Union’s safety standards.
While there are rumours circulating that smart meters emit dangerous amounts of radiation, they actually send out far less than the mobile phone you keep in your pocket or the microwave you heat your food in.
Public Health England (PHE), a government watchdog, has confirmed that smart meters cause no risk to your health and aren’t dangerous to have in your home.
As a renter, can I get a smart meter if my landlord doesn’t want it?
If you pay the bills and hold the energy account, it’s up to you if you get a smart meter and not your landlord.
But you’ll need to check your tenancy agreement in case there’s a restriction on the type of meter you can have installed, even if you are responsible for the bills.
If there is a clause on what type of meter you can have or your landlord pays your bills, you’ll need to ask them if you can have a smart meter put in.
And it’s a good idea to let your landlord know if you’re getting one installed, even if you don’t need their permission, just to stay on good terms.
Read more: Can I get a smart meter if I rent?
Can I control what data is shared about me?
Besides your energy data being used to bill you for your consumption, you can decide how this information is used.
Unless you object, energy suppliers can access your daily data. Energy networks need consumer consent or Ofgem approval to access anything other than monthly data, which can only be used to comply with their regulated duties.
Beyond this, you can give energy suppliers and other third parties access to your energy use data for marketing purposes, for example after 2020 switching sites could let you know if there’s better tariffs available for you.
But they have to ask your permission to do this.
Your energy supplier also has to ask you if it wants to access your half-hourly data, instead of just your daily data.
Does having a smart meter mean my energy bills will increase?
Having a smart meter should mean you’re aware of how much energy you’re using so you can try to be more efficient.
It also means the end to estimated billing so your bills will be more accurate.
This might mean your direct debits will increase if your energy supplier has been under-estimating how much energy your household uses.
On the same token, you might see your bills adjusted downwards if you’re actually being more energy-efficient than estimated.
Our recent online survey found 34% of smart meter owners thought their gas and electricity use had reduced since getting a smart meter.
In contrast, 20% thought their energy use had increased.
But there is evidence that smart meters might cost us money due to the cost of the roll-out.
Read more: your rights if your energy bills increase
What are the pros and cons of smart meters?
Your in-home display will show you a clear picture of your energy use and spend to help you understand it better.
You can watch how your activities directly impact your energy bill – for example if you’re home all of Sunday when you cook a full roast, put the kettle on a lot and do the ironing versus a day when you’re mostly out.
This can help you save money as seeing an almost real-time spend can be more confronting than a bill at the end of the month.
And because smart meters automatically send your energy usage to your supplier, you’ll have more accurate bills and will be less likely to get a painful sudden increase to your direct debit.
Some energy suppliers also only offer some of their tariffs to people with smart meters.
While you’re still able to switch suppliers if you have a smart meter, it might become ‘dumb’ when you do so, meaning it won’t automatically send your usage back to your provider.
This will depend on what type of smart meter you have and which company you switch to. The National Audit Office found about 70% of SMETS1 devices lost functionality when people switched. Overall, 90% of smart meters still retain their full functionality, BEIS told us.
We’ve also heard of issues about it being tricky to get a meter reading, in-home displays not connecting to the smart meter nor recording electricity generated by solar panels.
Our energy experts have tips on how to solve some of your common smart meter problems.