Smart meters explained
Smart meter problems and how to solve them
Article 4 of 4
Smart meter problems and solutions
We reveal the most common problems we hear about from customers with smart meters, plus tips on how to solve them.
There are two types of smart meters: first and second generation. The type you have depends mainly on when you had them fitted.
Issues with smart meter installation and functionality have come to light during the first stage of the smart meter roll-out. Here we’ve listed some of those we’ve heard about, how common they are, and what you can do about them.
So far, most of the smart meters installed are first-generation (SMETS1) meters. Many companies are now installing second-generation (SMETS2) meters instead, which should not have many of these issues.
Common smart meter problems and how to fix them
Around 13.65m first-generation smart meters are fitted in homes and small businesses so far – 7.1m more than the original target, according to the National Audit Office. So, at this stage, it’s much more likely you have this type.
So we asked hundreds of Which? members who have smart meters if they had experienced any problems with their meter or in-home display. Smart Energy GB, the smart meter consumer information campaign, gave us its tips on how best to solve them.
If you’re having problems with your smart meter, click on the links below to find out what you can do:
- My smart meter turned dumb when I switched supplier
- It’s tricky to get a meter reading
- My energy supplier cannot get meter readings
- My in-home display doesn’t connect to the smart meter
- Smart meters don’t work with solar panels
- My bills are inaccurate with my smart meter
- My home has no mobile network access
- My gas and electricity meters are hard to access
- Do smart meters give off radiation?
Solution: Depending on which company you switch to, you may not lose your smart functionality. Check with your chosen supplier before you switch. If you do lose smart functionality, you’ll have to send meter readings to your energy firm for a while.
Some 70% of smart meters lose smart functions when consumers switch, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Which? research also found that three in 10 (29%) found that both their smart meter and in-home display stopped working when they switched supplier. A fifth (19%) said their smart meter stopped working. Just two fifths (42%) found both smart meter and in-home display worked after switching.*
If your smart meter is no longer smart
It’s now possible to connect some first-generation meters to the same wireless network used by second-generation meters. This means that smart functions will be restored and retained when you switch supplier. Energy companies are expected to start connecting meters in May 2019 and around two thirds will be able to be upgraded in this way. Here's when different brands will become possible to upgrade, according to Smart DCC:
- From 29th May: Aclara, some Honeywell Elster meters and some Itron meters
- From 30th September: some Honeywell Elster meters, Secure meters
- From 12th December: some Landis+Gyr meters, EDMI meters
The manufacturer is usually printed on the meter’s case.
You don’t need to do anything to get your meter upgraded; it will be done wirelessly and automatically. ‘Dumb’ meters will be prioritised and energy firms have a year to connect first-generation meters to the network, starting from when it’s possible for them to do so, or when you switch to them. So the final group of meters should be upgraded by December 2020.
Your energy company may be able to tell you exactly when your meter will regain its smart functions.
But there’s no solution yet for the final third of homes with first-generation meters, of which the majority are 'Secure' branded. On 4 March 2019, The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a consultation to seek views on its proposal for the Data Communications Company (DCC), which manages the wireless network, to enrol the remaining Secure first-generation meters. Some of the factors include whether these devices offer an acceptable level of security and whether the enrolment is technically possible. The consultation ends on 2 April.
That leaves just 1% of smart meters unaccounted for. If you have an EDMI meter, you are among these.
Some meters may not be possible to upgrade; if yours is among these, it will be replaced by the end of the roll-out instead.
If your smart meter is working and you want to switch
It’s possible to switch supplier with your first-generation smart meter and keep it smart.
Some companies can operate first-generation smart meters from rival suppliers. This may be because they use compatible technology, the same brand of meter or have agreements in place. We spoke to 10 of the biggest energy firms:
- British Gas can operate smart meters from Co-operative Energy, EDF, Scottish Power, Spark Energy and SSE.
- Bulb says it can operate ‘a proportion of meters across a range of suppliers’
- First Utility, Ovo Energy and Utilita can operate and Secure branded smart meters
- EDF Energy, Eon, Npower and SSE told us they can’t currently operate first-generation meters from any other firms
Switching and staying smart doesn’t necessarily work in both directions, though, so check with a new supplier before you switch. If your potential new supplier isn’t listed here, check that they’ll be able to get automatic meter readings from your first-generation smart meter before you switch.
Ovo Energy and Utilita both told us that they’ll replace smart meters which they cannot operate. In fact, a third (32%) of smart meter owners who had switched supplier told us that their new firm replaced their smart meter,* so other companies might be willing to fit you a new smart meter if they cannot operate your current one.
Solution: Check if your energy supplier is having connectivity issues. You may need to submit meter readings to ensure you’re billed accurately while problems are resolved.
Most problems should be resolved when all smart meters use the DCC wireless network, covering 99.25% of Great Britain.
If your first-generation smart meter stopped working when you switched supplier, read the section above about what to do if your smart meter turned dumb when you switched supplier.
Solution: The displays work best when close to the smart meter. If your meters are inaccessible or outside, ask your energy supplier for advice. Check if your in-home display has a flat battery or is unplugged. Check the instruction booklet for troubleshooting tips, and contact your energy supplier if the problem persists.
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 in to the meter) 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 developed which should work in 96.5% of homes and be available by spring 2019. Technology for the remaining homes is being developed.
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.)
Find out more about solar panels and if they're right for your home.
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 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 be 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.
Very few people we’ve heard from are concerned about inaccurate bills once they’ve had their smart meter fitted. In fact those who have had their smart meter for more than two years were more likely to rate their bills as accurate (compared with those who had a smart meter more recently).* A smart meter sends your meter readings to your energy supplier automatically, so your bills should be more accurate.
If you had a faulty old meter, or did not submit meter readings and got estimated bills, you may find that your payments change. If your meter was faulty, 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. Find out how to check if you have a faulty energy meter.
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 was 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.
Nationwide coverage will increase to 99.25% by the end of the roll-out in 2021, when all meters are connected to the full DCC network.
If there's any doubt that your home may not have coverage, make sure you get a pre-installation visit to confirm this.
If your meter is in a small cupboard or another confined space, then a technician may struggle to install your smart meter. They may ask you to dismantle the cupboard or move other obstacles to reach the meter.
If your meter is partly concealed in a case outside, then your energy company may not be able to replace it yet. We’ve heard from members whose energy firms aren’t yet replacing these ‘semi-concealed’ meters.
If your meter is positioned very high up, make sure you let your energy company know, so it’s prepared.
Some people have complained about the impact of smart meters on their health, in particular those suffering from electromagnetic sensitivity or electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
The evidence to date suggests exposure to radio waves produced by smart meters do not pose a risk to health.
A 2017 study of a selection of smart meters available in Great Britain found that exposure to radio waves from smart meters is below guidelines set by the international body for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
It also found that smart meters expose people to radio waves less than mobile phones and wi-fi equipment.
If issues with your smart meter continue, read our advice on your rights with a smart meter.
*Online survey in September 2018 of 2,910 members of the GB general public who have smart meters.