Energy companies are replacing all old-style gas and electricity meters with smart meters. They’re part of creating a smarter energy system.
Smart meters measure your exact gas and electricity use and then send the information back to your energy supplier, without the need for someone to come and take your meter readings.
But the purpose of the smart meter roll-out is far broader. They’re part of the wider ‘smart grid’ planned by the government, intended to be cheaper and more efficient, and incorporate smart home products, electric cars and more.
More than four in 10 gas and electricity meters are now smart meters. The coronavirus pandemic delayed installations but energy suppliers are installing them again. They should take steps to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19, including keeping a 2m distance from you and wearing a face covering.
The official national smart meter roll-out began in 2016 and was meant to finish in 2020. However, installations were paused at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and suppliers have been given extra time to install smart meters.
Energy firms now have until December 2021 to take 'all reasonable steps' to install smart meters in homes and small businesses, with a final deadline of mid-2025 to install them in all homes and in businesses of all sizes.
In total, around 53 million new meters will be fitted, involving around 30 million home visits.
So far, more than 23 million smart meters have been installed in homes across all energy companies.
Until 2019, the majority of smart meters installed were first-generation meters. Energy companies were encouraged to stop installing these by March 2019 and install second-generation smart meters instead. So far, more than eight million second-generation smart meters have been fitted.
Smart meter installations paused in spring 2020 and early 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. Installations have sped up again since.
Some first-generation smart meters have had problems with them losing their smart functions. Energy companies can now upgrade most first-generation smart meters so that they work fully again.
Smart meters could bring huge potential for you, your energy company, and the wider energy system.
For you, a smart meter is the means to get in-depth information about your energy use – for example, how much you’re spending on running your flatscreen TV. Studies are being done into how smart meters could alert you if elderly relatives are showing signs of dementia (by revealing unusual patterns in eating and sleeping shown by electricity use), or dangerously underheating their homes in winter.
Having a smart meter means you may be able to switch suppliers much more quickly in future, for example via an app. Plus, you could trade energy with your neighbours or sell surplus electricity you’ve generated from solar panels.
Your energy company will get automatic meter readings, up to every half hour, so it can offer you tariffs tailored to when you use energy – potentially saving you money. Smart time-of-use tariffs are already available from some companies, and offer cheaper rates for electricity at certain (less popular) times of day.
There are community energy schemes taking advantage of this, such as Energy Local. This matches local renewable generation with users nearby in real time, so they only pay for electricity used on top of what their local generator produced.
The wider system will change from passive electricity grids to ‘smart grids’, and smart meters are a key part of this. Smart grids use digital technology, so network operators can predict much more accurately how much electricity is needed by the country, and when, so they can better match supply with demand.
Smart appliances connected to the grid in future could be used to help manage surges in demand (for example, millions boiling the kettle at half time during the FA cup final) by switching off momentarily, and electric cars could be used as batteries to store excess-generated electricity. Network operators will have detailed information on power cuts so they can better manage them.