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Smart meters explained

What to expect from a smart meter installation

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Smart meter installation

What you need to know about smart-meter installation, including which companies are installing them plus the pros and cons of getting a smart meter now.

More than 13m smart meters are now fitted in homes. We tell you what you need to know if you haven’t had one installed yet, plus why some smart meters 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. If you had one installed before the official roll-out, or had a first-generation meter installed, there are some things you need to know. 

Scroll down to read more, plus find out whether your energy company is installing smart meters.

How can I get a smart meter?

Your energy company will get in touch to arrange a suitable time and date to fit your smart meter. Or you can contact it to arrange an appointment. If someone knocks at your door to make a smart-meter appointment, ask to see official ID to ensure they’re not a rogue trader trying to scam you. The installation itself will be carried out by a trained installer from the energy company or a company working for it. You'll need to be at home during the installation appointment.

British Gas estimates that a typical smart-meter installation will take around 1.5 hours – but it will differ from property to property, and depend on where your current meters are located.

As part of the installation, you will be given an in-home display (IHD) which will show how much energy you’re using, in real time, and how much it’s costing. The installer should show you how to use this. You may also be able to see your energy use via your online account or app.

Your energy company should also give you advice on saving energy in your home, and how to use your smart meter to do this. There's a code of conduct that smart-meter installers are required to follow, which forbids them from tying to sell you other products while they’re installing your smart meter.

You'll get two smart meters – one for gas and one for electricity (or just an electricity one if you haven't got gas). The smart gas meters are slightly smaller than current gas meters, but you may find that your electricity smart meter is slightly bigger than the old-style meter you have now.

If you don’t want a smart meter installed, know your rights. You're not obliged to have one, and can ask your supplier to replace your old meter with a smart meter that has its communications switched off.

Before the installation

Before your smart meter is installed, your energy firm should tell you:

  • what to expect
  • how long the installation will take
  • if there's anything you need to do before the installation can happen (eg clear out the cupboard containing your meter).

Which energy companies have smart meters?

When we spoke to energy companies in November and December 2018, several had begun installing second-generation meters. Some are testing them but others have started rolling them out more widely to customers. Others are still installing first-generation meters in the meantime.

Below, you’ll find an update on the progress of the biggest suppliers. Click on a suppliers' name to find out the latest.

British Gas has installed the most smart meters of any energy company, perhaps unsurprisingly since it’s the biggest. It has fitted more than 6.8m smart meters in homes – around half of the total domestic smart meters installed so far. It has begun installing second-generation meters, and fitted 60,000 so far.

British Gas's smart meter comes with a colour-screen in-home display unit (IHD), which it calls a smart energy monitor. This shows you your gas and electricity use in real time, how much it's costing you, and how it compared with yesterday, last week or last month.

It also shows you the temperature and has a traffic-light indicator to show if your current use is low, medium or high.

With a smart meter, you’ll also get a breakdown of your energy use online, at British Gas My Energy. This also compares your energy use with similar homes, and shows your likely spend on heating, hot water, lighting and cooking.

The smart prepayment meter means you can top up using the British Gas app, online and over the phone, as well as at your local shop. Your in-home display will show how much credit you have left, and you can set it to alert you when you’re running low.

British Gas offers some energy deals only for customers with smart meters. British Gas Rewards, a loyalty scheme, sometimes gives smart meter offers, such as free energy days.

Unlike the Big Six suppliers, Bulb chose not to install first-generation smart meters because not all suppliers can operate them. Instead it will start installing second-generation meters in early 2019, once it has finished testing.

Customers on Bulb’s waiting list will get smart meters first.

Bulb’s in-home display will show live energy use, use over different periods in the past (eg weeks and months), and will set budgets with alerts if you’re in danger of exceeding them.

The company is also developing smart-meter features for its online account, and customers will be able to see graphics of their use online.

It already sells a smart tariff which charges different rates at different times of day and night, depending on the cost of electricity. You need a smart meter to access this, and you need to agree to Bulb taking meter readings every half hour.

EDF Energy has installed around 750,000 smart meters, including more than 20,000 second-generation meters.

Its smart-meter display shows your energy use and how much you’re spending. A traffic light will show whether you’re using a little or a lot of energy.

Details about your energy use are also available through the My Account app. This includes a calendar heatmap, so you can see at a glance the days when you used the most or least energy, and a graph of your daily energy use.

Eon has installed around 1.4m smart meters so far. It has begun installing second-generation meters and says it’s ‘continuing to increase’ these.

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 get alerts if you overspend.

Eon says that customers are saving 2% on average on their energy bills.

So far, First Utility has installed 650,000 first-generation smart meters. It begun offering second-generation meters in the final few months of 2018, and had installed 34 of them when we spoke to it in November 2018. It plans to ramp up its installations this year.

First Utility provides an IHD 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.

It has also started offering a smart-meter tariff.

Npower had installed more than half a million smart meters in its customers’ homes by summer 2018. It says it started installing second-generation meters in September 2017.

Npower’s in-home display shows gas and electricity use and spend in real time (every 30 minutes for gas), plus your daily, weekly and monthly use. You can also use it to set yourself a budget (and an alert when you’re getting close), and to check your tariff details and meter readings.

Npower told us it's testing new online-account features for customers with smart meters, as well as smart-meter tariffs.

Ovo has installed more than a million smart meters for its customers. Of these, 2,122 are second-generation meters which it begun installing after trials in 2017. Ovo will get in touch with customers when their area is eligible, but you can also book an installation online. 

The touchscreen in-home display shows your energy use, how much it’s costing you, and how much carbon dioxide you’re producing. You can check how much energy you’ve used over the past few hours, days, weeks or months, and use it to set a budget and alert you if you’re getting close.

Customers with smart meters can access the My Ovo online platform, which has a breakdown of energy consumption by appliance category. If you let Ovo take half-hourly meter readings, it can combine this data with algorithms to show you how much energy different types of appliance are using.

Smart prepayment meter customers can access Smart PAYG+, which lets you track your energy usage, get notifications when your balance is low and set up automatic top-ups. These functions are only available with first-generation smart meters at the moment.

Scottish Power has also begun rolling out smart meters but was not willing to respond to our enquiries. However, in its 2018 financial results it stated that it had installed 1.2m smart meters.

SSE has installed more than a million smart meters so far, and has begun installing second-generation meters, which it said are a ‘comparatively small’ proportion of the total.

It provides an in-home display, which it calls a Smart Energy Tracker. 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.

Its online account has interactive charts showing your energy use at different times of the day.

SSE also sells smart tariffs. These are cheaper than its standard tariff, and give customers £50 credit on their account after 12 months, as a reward for getting a smart meter installed.

Utilita says it has already installed smart meters for more than 1.1 million of its customers - and more than 90% of them now have a smart meter. It says it was the first UK supplier to install a smart meter in 2008.

It hasn’t installed any second-generation meters yet, as it says first-generation meters are secure, cost-effective and give prepayment customers additional functionality that isn’t support by second-generation meters.

Utilita explained that first-generation smart meters have a keypad, so you can operate it yourself if there are problems or the network is down. Second-generation meters don’t have this option.

In fact, Utilita filed for a judicial review of the end date for installing SMETS1 meters for pay-as-you-go customers. It asked for it to be pushed back to 2020.

Customers will get an in-home display with their smart meter. This will show you your balance for electricity and gas, and approximately how many days’ worth you have left. You can also see graphs of your energy use and spend over days, weeks or months. Setting a target means you’ll get an alert when you’re getting close.

Smart-meter customers can also access emergency and friendly credit:

Emergency Credit – customers can access £15 of credit when their balance is £0 and they can’t top up. You pay this back when you next top up.

Friendly Credit – if you run out of credit in the evening (between 2pm and 10am the following day), at the weekend or on a bank holiday, your electricity and gas supply won't be cut off. This gives you time to top up.

Bristol Energy, Ebico, Ecotricity, Extra Energy, Flow Energy, Green Star Energy, Octopus Energy, Robin Hood Energy, Spark Energy and Utility Warehouse have all begun installing smart meters.

Like the Big Six, most of these planned to start with first-generation meters and transition to second-generation meters once tests were complete.

Want to pay less for energy? Use our independent switching service, Which? Switch to find the cheapest energy deal.

How often will my smart meter need to be replaced?

Smart meters will need replacing around every 10 years – which is more often than current gas and electricity meters. Your energy company will let you know when your smart meter is due to be replaced, and arrange a time and date for this to happen.

Your gas meter is battery-powered so, like traditional prepayment meters, will need to have its battery replaced when it goes flat. It should send a notification to your supplier when it needs replacing, but if you’re concerned, contact your energy firm. Electricity smart meters are mains-powered.

In-home displays can be either mains or battery-powered. If yours stops working, it won’t affect your smart meter.