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Gas and electric meters explained

Find out what you need to know about the different types of energy meters, and how to read them.

Find out what you need to know about the different types of energy meters, and how to read them.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
26 JANUARY 2024
7 min read
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Energy meters – what you need to know

All energy meters measure the amount of gas or electricity your household is using and help make sure you get accurate bills. With a standard energy meter, you can record your energy usage manually by reading the dial.

If the government succeeds in its mission to modernise, many of our standard meters will soon be replaced by smart meters. The big difference between them is that smart meters will send details of your usage directly to your supplier.

Smart meters

The government aims to have one of these digital meters in 75% of UK households by 2025.

Smart meters measure how much electricity and gas you're using in real time and send the information to your supplier, so you never have to submit a meter reading manually. There’s even a digital display in the house to keep you posted on how much energy you're using at any given time. 

Suppliers have to foot the bill to install these meters and there are rules to protect consumers. A report published in 2019 found that 80% of people with a smart meter have a better idea of their energy costs, and seven in 10 believe their energy bills are accurate. 

For more details, take a look at our guide to smart meters.

Standard meters

This type of meter just measures your usage. A meter reader from your supplier will come to check the reading, or you may be asked to submit your own readings as often as once a month. You can usually give the reading by online or by phone. If you don't supply a reading you’ll be sent an estimated bill based on past usage, which could mean that you are getting an inaccurate bill.  Most suppliers will generate an updated bill automatically based on your reading and add it to your online account or send you a paper bill, but you may have to ask for a new bill in some cases – so it's worth checking what happens. 

Pre-payment meters

If you have this kind of gas and electric meter, you pay for your energy in advance using cards, keys or tokens, or by topping up online or by app or text. You’ll get to know your meter well, as you need to keep an eye on your remaining balance to make sure you don’t run out of energy. If you do, you’ll have to go to the nearest top-up location or top-up online.

Suppliers sometimes offer pre-payment meters to customers with bad credit records. Some landlords prefer these over credit meters because it makes it much simpler to settle up expenses when tenants move out.

What is an Economy 7 meter?  

Economy 7 meters, known as White Meters in Scotland, provide you with different rates during the day and night. If you’re on this type of tariff, you’ll have a meter that'll display your two separate rates. The seven refers to the hours per day which are classed as off-peak. Energy used outside of those seven hours is charged at a more expensive rate.

What is an Economy 10 meter?

Economy 10 meters work in the same way as Economy 7, except that you have a 10-hour off-peak rate. These two separate rates work in the same way, with one for day use and the other for night-time use. Any electricity used outside of these designated hours will be charged at a higher rate.

How to read your meter 

With your Economy 7 or 10 meter featuring two different rates, it’s important you know how to read your meter. The way you conduct a meter reading varies, depending on the type of meter you have installed. You will see either a row of numbers, or a series of dials. 

Your meter will show two readings: 

  • The night time/cheap rate, which is usually displayed at the top.
  • The daytime/peak rate, which is usually displayed at the bottom. 

Some meters however, do not display the readings for both rates together. Instead, they have a single display, and a button that will allow you to change which rate is shown.

Digital meter

These are used to measure gas and electricity use and have digital or electronic displays. Like a standard meter, they’re simple to read – just read from left to right. If there’s a red number at the end, ignore it when taking meter readings.

Dial meters

These energy meters have four or five dials, with each one going from 0 to 9. There’s a bit of an art to reading them, but to put it simply: 

  • You go from left to right, ignoring any dials that are red or don’t have a pointer.
  • If the pointer is between any numbers between 0 and 8, note down the lower one.
  • If it’s between 0 and 9, write down 9. 
  • If any of the dials read 9, minus one from the value of the dial before it.

It you’re having trouble, we have a detailed meter reading guide.

What does an energy meter measure? 

Gas meters generally record the volume of gas consumed in cubic feet (ft3), but your supplier will normally convert this to kilowatt hours on your gas bill. 

Electricity meters measure kilowatt hours (kWh) and you may see these marked on your meter. A kilowatt hour is a unit of measurement that is the amount of energy you would use if you kept a 1,000 watt appliance running for an hour. So, if you were using a 100 watt lightbulb it would take 10 hours to burn up 1kWh of electricity. The more watts in an appliance the less time it takes, a 2,000 watt appliance would take 30 mins to use 1kWh of energy. 

Appliances can have labels or manuals that show their wattage – but generally electric showers, immersion heaters, room heaters and tumble driers are quite heavy users of power.

Is the meter always right?

Meters can go wrong. So if you think your meter isn’t accurately recording your energy use, you can always get it checked by your supplier. They may charge for this to be done.

If you notice your meter is recording higher energy usage and you can’t figure out why, there’s a chance you might be a victim of energy theft.

Can an energy monitor help?

Another way to check your electricity usage is get an energy monitor. These useful devices attach to your power supply and have a wireless display to show you how much energy you’re consuming.

You can see which appliances are using the most electricity by switching them on one by one. And if you enter your tariff, the monitor will tell you how much it's costing too.

Are smart meters worth having? 

If used properly, a smart meter can help you save money on your energy bill. However, simply getting one isn’t going to see your bill drop in price. It can get you access to some cheaper tariffs, but the idea is that you use the ability to track your energy use to find ways of becoming more energy efficient. 

Smart meters provide direct and accurate readings to your supplier, meaning you no longer need to. Regular accurate readings can ensure that you aren’t paying for more than you’re using, or underpaying and face a potential bill shock in the future. Find out more in our guide to smart meters.

Are there any disadvantages to smart meters?

Old smart meters used to be difficult to transfer between suppliers, so if you switched then you might need a new smart meter. But all smart meters now being installed should be able to be switched between power suppliers.

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