What are the Pros and Cons of Smart Meters?

The switch-over to smart meters is well underway – according to latest government figures, they make up 31% of all meters in the UK. Smart meters can help you reduce your energy use, but are there any downsides?

The switch-over to smart meters is well underway – according to latest government figures, they make up 31% of all meters in the UK. Smart meters can help you reduce your energy use, but are there any downsides?

Sofia Hutson
Utilities expert
minute read
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Posted 15 OCTOBER 2021

What is a smart meter? 

A smart meter is a device installed to automatically track your gas and electricity usage. It’s connected to an in-home display which shows you how much you’re using and how much it’s costing you. Best of all, a smart meter sends your meter readings to your energy supplier automatically.

Why should I get a smart meter? 

The main benefit of getting a smart meter is that you’ll no longer need to take manual readings for your gas and electricity. With a smart meter, all that data is sent to your supplier automatically. 

On top of that, a smart meter, with its in-home display, is a good way for you to track your energy usage. With this, you’ll be able to make changes to your energy usage to help protect the environment and save you a few quid!

Smart meter pros 

If you were wondering ‘what are smart meters good for’, let’s start with the advantages of having a smart meter: 

No more meter readings
A smart meter will take a reading from your meter and automatically send it to your energy supplier. That means no more scrabbling around in a cupboard with a torch as you try to see the numbers.

It also means your energy supplier won’t need to pay someone to come out and read your meter. What they save in costs could be passed on to you, the customer.

Accurate energy bills
A smart meter will send an accurate reading of your exact energy use to the energy supplier either half-hourly, daily or monthly, it’s your choice . This does away with estimated bills – so you’ll only be charged for what you use.

With traditional non-smart meters, if you forget to submit a reading, your energy supplier will estimate your use based on past bills. Estimates can be notoriously inaccurate. With a smart meter you’ll avoid estimates and the shock of a nasty final bill when your tariff comes to an end.

Easily track what you use and spend
Smart meters come with a handy In-Home Display (IHD) unit (IHD) that you can put anywhere, such as on a wall in your kitchen. The display shows you how much energy you’re using in real time.

You can also see exactly how much energy is being used by a particular appliance – for example, each time you put the kettle on. This helps you monitor your energy use. It also helps you work out which appliances are the worst energy guzzlers and which ones are the most energy efficient. 

Encourages better energy habits
If you can see how much energy you’re using, you’re more likely to change bad habits and hopefully reduce what you use. This is great for budgeting. Better energy habits could mean cheaper energy bills in the long run. 

Could help reduce your carbon footprint
Being more aware of how much energy you use could steer you towards taking energy-saving steps, helping to cut down on your home’s CO2 emissions.

Access to cheaper tariffs
To encourage more people to switch to smart meters, many energy suppliers are offering exclusive discounts and cheaper tariffs for homes with smart meters.

It’s easier to switch suppliers
As you won’t need to take a final reading, switching suppliers will be easier.

Smart meter cons 

While there are plenty of benefits to having a smart meter, there are also some disadvantages: 

Uses a mobile signal
First and second-generation smart meters use a mobile-network signal to send data. While a smart meter doesn’t use a traditional Wi-Fi or internet connection, if you live in an area where the mobile signal is patchy, it will affect your smart meter, too. However, a new dedicated wireless smart-meter network is currently being set up by the Data Communications Company (DCC) to resolve this problem. According to Ofgem, smart-meter communications coverage should reach over 99% of UK households by the end of 2020. 

There’s no guarantee you’ll save money
A smart meter will only help you save money if you use it to monitor your energy use and make a positive decision to cut back.

Excessive monitoring
Obsessively checking the display to see how much you’re spending could lead to family friction. It’s impossible to cut out your energy use completely, and it’ll cause problems if you get upset every time someone switches on a light or boils the kettle. 

Your meter might not stay smart if you switch suppliers
If you have a first-generation (SMETS1) smart meter installed, it might lose its ‘smart’ functionality when you switch suppliers. This means you might have to go back to manually reading your meter. The plan is to remotely upgrade all SMETS1 meters so that they’re compatible with all energy suppliers. This will enable first-generation smart meters to regain their smart functionality after switching.

If you don’t have a smart meter yet, it may be worth switching suppliers before it’s time to get one installed. With the great range of exclusive tariffs out there, you’ll be sure to find a cheap deal that you’re happy with.

How do I know if a smart meter is right for me? 

If you’re not sure if a smart meter is right for you, it’s best to weigh up the pros and cons. A smart meter can take some of the hassle out of tracking your energy usage, provide accurate readings and can help you take steps to reduce your carbon footprint. These are the main benefits of having a smart meter, and many people are making the most of them. 

Of course, just having a smart meter won’t necessarily save you money automatically, but it’s a useful tool to help you do so, and it takes some of the household admin off your hands.

Frequently asked questions

Are smart meters free?

Yes, smart meters are installed for free as part of a government scheme. However, the cost of their installation is essentially absorbed into everybody’s energy bill as part of a smart meter tariff.

What is SMETS1 and SMETS2

SMETS stands for smart metering equipment technical specification. The first generation of smart meters are SMETS1. The second generation are SMETS2. 

Compare energy suppliers today and see if you could save by switching.

Are smart meters compulsory?

Smart meters aren’t compulsory, but they are being rolled out across the UK, with energy suppliers aiming to install them in all homes by 2024. If you’d rather not have one, don’t worry, you’re under no obligation to have one installed.

How do smart meters work?

Smart meters automatically track your energy usage and send your meter readings to your energy supplier. With a smart meter, you can wave goodbye to manual meter readings.